This page is for the impact of specific technological advances on society. The prior page talks about the general impact of new technology.


Eugenics is a set of beliefs and practices that aims at improving the genetic quality of the human population.

Obviously it is a hot-button issue. Most groups become hysterical when you suggest limiting their right to reproduce (especially if said group fears they will slip from being the majority to being the minority).

They get even more hysterical when they are prevented from reproducing by being put to death.

However there are other troubling questions. The main one is exactly what sort of measuring standard are you using to define "improved"? Almost as troubling is "who decides the measuring standards, and who does the measuring?" Obviously those in power can abuse this as a nasty form of ethnic cleansing.

More innocently, harm can mistakenly be done. For instance, sickle-cell anaemia is a genetically caused disease which occurs when the person inherits two allele of the sickle cell trait. People suffering from it rarely live past age 60. So that allele should be eugenically eliminated, right? Wrong! People with one allele are resistant to the even more deadly disease malaria. In this case, using eugenics would do more harm than good. The same holds true for the cystic fibrosis allele and cholera.

There is also the fear that such manipulation will reduce genetic diversity thus leading to inbreeding depression. In Beyond This Horizon by Robert Heinlein, genetic selection for increased health, longevity, and intelligence has become so widespread that the unmodified 'control naturals' are a carefully managed and protected minority.

Finally there is all those hideous overtones of Nazi Germany.

A milder form of eugenics is when the decision is made by the parents, not the government. You generally see this in science fiction with in vitro fertilization and a doctor giving the parents genetic counselling. The doctor gives the parents a list with check-boxes so the parents can chose what traits they want in their offspring, and advises them to omit obvious genetic diseases. The choices are fed into the machine, there is some quick genetic engineering on the zygote, then it is ready to be implanted (or popped into the artificial womb). See the movie Gattaca.

I don't trust people to genetically 'design' their child because I see what they do with character creation in games.

From a thread in Reddit: Shower Thoughts by Slimebeast (2016)

There are many ways to implement eugenics.


After homo sapiens becomes a multi-planet species, the question becomes, would we remain a single species of humanity? Scott Solomon thinks a lot about this question in his new book Future Humans, which will be published by Yale Press in October. In it, he explores the future evolution of our species, including some musings on Mars.

“The general concept for the book is to ask about our ongoing evolution, from the perspective of a scientist who takes what we know about our past, what we know about today, and thinking about the long-term possibilities for our species,” Solomon, a biologist at Rice University in Houston, said. What, he wondered, would it take to lead to development of a new species? Put another way, how long would humans on Mars remain human?

Solomon explained that new species evolve most commonly when a barrier prevents a population from mating, such as on an island archipelago, so species on separate Galapagos islands evolve along separate lines. With modern humanity, of course, the trend is going in the opposite direction, as people move around the planet at a rate unprecedented in human history. “So on planet Earth it would take a major change to imagine us having populations isolated long enough to have distinct species,” he said.

The gulf between Earth and Mars might present such a barrier, if the Martian colony were self-sustaining and persistent. Through natural selection, humans and any organisms they bring with them, such as a plants, may evolve and adapt to Mars' harsh environment and low gravity, which is only a third of Earth's gravity.

Lacking a magnetosphere, Mars is bombarded by an increased rate of radiation, which also favors speciation. Ionizing radiation causes mutation in genes, which would provide a source of new genetic variations. That could accelerate the process of adaptation. On the downside, Solomon said, the higher radiation might just kill people. Or it might cause colonists to perpetually huddle inside small habitats and space suits, leading a Morlock-like existence and facing a similar evolutionary fate.

Ultimately it still may take a long time for speciation to occur. The one solid data point we have on Earth is the colonization of the Americas, which were settled by waves of people moving across the Bering Strait around the end of the last ice age. These populations were then isolated from the rest of world for about 10,000 years. When Europeans arrived they found a distinct population of native Americans, Solomon said, but certainly not a different species. That would suggest that, on a planet with a similar atmosphere and gravity as the Earth, it would take a human population more than 10,000 years to speciate. Mars is not that planet, of course.

Another factor to consider as humans contemplate colonizing other worlds, Solomon said, is the “founder effect,” which simply means that when a small number of people establish a new population from a larger population, the genes of the founders will have a huge influence on that population moving forward. This occurred with the small bands of humans spreading out from Africa.

“I’m thinking about what the long-term fate of our species may be,” Solomon said. “When selecting colonists I don’t believe we should be trying to select what attributes we want in a new species of humans. But it’s interesting to think that if you were to take only people from certain populations, or try to include a diversity of all of humanity, how those outcomes would be very different for the potential of what might become a new species of humans.”


Quote Brain Wave has been moved here.


Nothing to do with corn

“Ladies, Lords.

Today, with the advent of cheaply available nanomutagens, we are seeing an explosion in human genetic alteration ranging from pre-natal to geriatric–and from targeted risk factor reduction to wholesale alteration of secondary sexual characteristics. The government does not possess any agency for regulating such operations, and the recent passage of court bill 2301AP-8903 legally binds it to inaction. I believe this is a failure on the part of this committee, inasmuch as we are obligated to also advise policy.

The problem is that legalization of all such genetic engineering doesn’t merely pass the burden of inevitable failures onto the expectant parents or individual requesting the treatment (as the legislature appears to have concluded); it also creates a sociogenetic debt.

True, we have overseen the almost complete eradication of the more common genetically linked susceptibilities–as well as single-gene genetic disorders proper, such as CF and TS in the last decade alone. In the case of the former, we can all agree that eliminating the most common ΔF508 mutation was a triumph of science and humanity.

But what about myopia? If present trends continue, genes for imperfect eyesight will be ruthlessly bred out until no human wears eyeglasses. Gone will be the bespectacled academic, the horn-rimmed librarian, the bookish teen. This correction of a genetic fault will thereby alter our culture.

People have preferences for hair, eye color, and so on. So far, diversity has been preserved only by the presence of differing racial and societal expectations of attractiveness. But already we see evidence of women crippled by their parents’ absurdly idealized notions of beauty, especially body weight, and men too Hellenistically sculpted to fit into standard space suits. We’re at an inflection point where an entire generation could be born blond if some hypothetical singer with sandy hair became sufficiently popular.”

TS [2301-05-22 13:28, 2301-05-22 13:33]


Just now, he was reading up on Vivers. Kelly could find little in the ship’s library on the strange creatures. He asked Torwald, and the older spacer gave him a microfilm monograph, written by none other than one Torwald Raffen, that contained more accurate information than any “official” document about the secretive subspecies.

Kelly learned that in the last century, a few decades after the first interstellar drive was perfected, a group of geneticists got together and decided, after the fashion of scientists, that the human race could stand some improvement. They were going to create the Future Man. It was decided that humans were good mainly for surviving and that the new human race would have to be even better at it in order to be equal to the unknown exigencies of new worlds. It was agreed that the upright, bipedal, digit-handed human form could scarcely be improved upon for generalized capability, but that little improvements could be added here and there, specialties without specialization, as it were. Onto this they grafted a mentality obsessively concerned with survival. The result was the Viver, though it was not quite what they had planned. The fear that Vivers generated in ordinary humans was sufficient to get genetic engineering of humans banned forever. Kelly scratched Teddy’s ears and pondered that. The pseudobear had become a close friend, for it seemed to be the only life form on board that didn’t give him orders, chew him out, or think up unpleasant jobs for him to perform.

The typical Viver, Kelly read, was between six and seven feet tall and covered with horny, articulated plates of chitin that roughly followed the lines of human musculature. The hands were human in design but much larger, the knuckles covered with a spiked band of bone. The fingertips were equipped with inch-long retractile claws that did not interfere with ordinary use of the fingers when sheathed. Elbows and knees were heavily knobbed and bore large spikes. The feet had no toes, the foot being equipped with a club of bone and chitin where the toes should be. At the back of the leg, just below the calf, was a protrusion somewhat like a horse’s fetlock that concealed a seven-inch razor-sharp spur, perhaps the deadliest of the Viver’s natural weapons.

The head, set on a long flexible neck, was the least human feature of a Viver. The eyes were huge, taking up most of the skull’s interior. They were covered with a transparent plate and could swivel independently of one another. There were several, smaller apertures around the skull for the eyes to peer through. The beings had no true teeth, just serrated chitin.

Internally, Vivers difiered even more radically from the human parent stock. The brain was distributed throughout the body in tiny nodes, and the heart was likewise decentralized, being a series of small pumps distributed throughout the circulatory system. Practically the only way to kill a Viver was to cut him up into very small pieces. All parts, including brain tissue, were regenerative. It had been speculated that if a Viver were split in two down the middle, two complete Vivers would be the eventual result. So far no one had had the nerve to try that particular experiment.

Psychologically, all else was subordinate to the survival imperative. A Viver concerned himself with the survival of his race, his clan, his family, and himself. There were no political loyalties, only biological ones. They were smugglers because they had no respect whatever for ordinary human laws. They would have made invincible soldiers, but they saw war as a threat to their survival and studiously ignored conflicts between ordinary humans.

However, there was one exception. Young Vivers, before being judged fit to reproduce, had to undergo a period of exile during which they were expected to take part in wars and other adventures of a violent sort. It was for this last reason that the Space Angel was calling upon the good ship K’Tchak.

The Viver ship resembled a collection of buildings held together with tubes and braces, and, essentially, that was what it was. Built in space, it was never intended to land. The craft had to be big, for it contained almost all of the clan K’Tchak, and additions were made as the clan expanded. Despite their horrible tempers, Vivers liked the company of their own kind and ran to large families. It was all part of their obsession with survival.

As she approached, the Angel had about a fleet’s worth of armament trained on her. This was not because of her new weaponry; lifeboats received the same treatment from a Viver clan ship. Torwald gave a few passwords over the ship-to-ship and obtained grudging permission to go aboard, alone. As a security precaution, the skipper insisted that Torwald carry a scanner giving full aural and visual communication with those aboard the Angel. The Vivers did not object to the procedure; Vivers understood all about security precautions.

From SPACE ANGEL by John Maddox Roberts (1979)

End of Natural Selection

A concept that appears in science fiction once or twice is that "humans have stopped evolving", specifically technology and medical science have drastically hindered the process of natural selection. For instance, in primitive times a person with the genetic disease Phenylketonuria probably would not be able to survive long enough to reproduce (natural selection will prevent passing on the genetic disease). But currently modern medicine can detect the disease in newborns, and treat it with a special diet. In other words the person would survive long enough to pass it on to their offspring, thus thwarting natural selection.

Sir David Attenborough stated "We stopped natural selection as soon as we started being able to rear 95–99 percent of our babies that are born." Others have pointed out that while that might be true of 1st world countries, it is far from being true for the entire world.

In the Alan E. Nourse novel The Bladerunner (no relation to the movie of the same name) the world of the future has free, comprehensive medical treatment is available for anyone so long as they qualify for treatment under the Eugenics Laws. Preconditions for medical care include sterilization, and no legitimate medical care is available for anyone who does not qualify or does not wish to undergo the sterilization procedure (including children over the age of five). The ideas is to stop thwarting natural selection.

Others say humans are indeed still evolving, all we have done is shifted a large number of selective forces. While modern medicine has averted many biological cause of natural selection, one can see many new versions of natural selection by just perusing the Darwin Awards. In other words: deadly diseases has been replaced by Jackass.

A tangentially related concept appears in the Cyril Kornbluth short story The Marching Morons (which later inspired the movie Idiocracy). In the story, married couples who are intelligent tend not to have children, while unintelligent couples breed like cockroaches. After several hundred years of this, the average intelligence is what we would currently call an IQ of 45. The few intelligent people have no idea how to stop the collapse of society, but lucky for them a con artist who had been in suspended animation for 300 years has an answer that is effective (abet draconian).

The main flaw with the story is that the possibility of genetically breeding for stupidity is unproven.


"When did mankind lose touch with natural selection? No matter how inferior a human's genes are, that person is protected by laws, and can't be killed. Even those incapacitated in accidents or stricken with a serious illness are needlessly kept alive. What a drawn out, wasteful existence. It's this divorce from natural selection that has caused mankind to stop evolving. It's a step down. The devolution of mankind. But I intend to accelerate the culling of genetically inferior humans. To rekindle the refining fire of natural selection!" — Hans Davis, Metal Gear Ac!d

Some evil mad scientists use their twisted intellect solely for personal gain. This particular villain is not so provincial. His genius and his motives go hand in hand, and his concerns are (he thinks) with the welfare of the human species. Simply put, to the Evilutionary Biologist, humanity is stuck in an evolutionary rut, and it's up to him to put us back on the proper path so we can continue to evolve.

Why the Evilutionary Biologist believes this is necessary varies, as do his methods. Some Evilutionary Biologists simply believe that humanity has erred in its domination of the environment, and thus our very survival as a species is threatened unless they force us to continue evolving. Others see change and so-called improvement as goals in and of themselves, and resolve to use scientific advancement to cause them. Still others seek to create a new race of biologically superior transhumans or just the Ultimate Life Form with the power of science, either because they see humans as having outlived their time on the planet or because of a genuine desire to improve the human condition. They often subscribe to the philosophies of Social Darwinism and "The Ends Justify the Means". It's not uncommon for them to practice what they preach and marry a woman they see as fit and worthy for them and father a Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter.

Regardless, because of his dedication, the Evilutionary Biologist is willing to break laws, engage in experimental alterations upon other human beings, and ruin lives for the higher goal. Their creations are no less exempt; whether they're Replacement Goldfish, with the Cloning Blues, or genetically "programmed" to have evil In the Blood, their "children" are doomed to live sad, short, rebellious lives, unless they really do feel parental. They will never realize that Evil Evolves, and will never be able to identify themselves as the villains.

Evilutionary Biologists often create inhuman monsters and artificial humans to serve as minions and Mooks, as well as to populate their extensive Garden of Evil. They themselves may even be willing to suffer the fruits of their experimentation, often resulting in a monstrous, inhuman new body.

Whenever an Evilutionary Biologist appears on the scene — they are the most common form of villainous biologist in many games and Speculative Fiction media — be on guard for a Science Is Bad aesop to rear its ugly head.

This is especially ironic because in real biology, one of the core precepts of the theory of evolution is that it does not "improve" a species, because there is no such thing as an ideal form for a species — only what is best* at surviving and reproducing in current conditions. If the environment changes, the species must adapt all over again, which is why genetic diversity (Nature's way of "hedging her bets") is usually a good thing. Moreover, assuming that a species must evolve if subjected to imposed selection pressures (or Phlebotinum-induced mutations) overlooks the harsh fact that most organisms don't adapt in the face of such challenges: they simply go extinct, which is why we're not rubbing elbows with mammoths, sauropods and trilobites today. Deliberately applying such selective forces to humans may let us join them in extinction, not improve upon our current state. Finally, evolution is conservative, and a species which is thriving (you know, like Homo sapiens) is unlikely to evolve new traits, because it's doing fine the way it is. Sharks, for example, haven't changed much since before the first dinosaurs appeared, and they're just as successful as ever...making the entire mania of the Evilutionary Biologist suspect at best.

Even so, Goal-Oriented Evolution was taken dead seriously by many in the heyday of the Eugenics Movement, and still gets cited by people who really ought to know better (Singularitarians are frequently guilty of it).

Examples of this trope will probably be German, and possibly one of Those Wacky Nazis, if we want to be really obvious.

Compare Designer Babies.

* Or rather "good enough". Products of evolution are often The Alleged Car of the natural world. Go figure

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


     But I can tell you what sort of a planet it is (Planet Sanctuary). Like Earth, but retarded.
     Literally retarded, like a kid who takes ten years to learn to wave bye-bye and never does manage to master patty-cake. It is a planet as near like Earth as two planets can be, same age according to the planetologists and its star is the same age as the Sun and the same type, so say the astrophysicists. It has plenty of flora and fauna, the same atmosphere as Earth, near enough, and much the same weather; it even has a good-sized moon and Earth's exceptional tides.
     With all these advantages it barely got away from the starting gate. You see, it's short on mutations; it does not enjoy Earth's high level of natural radiation.
     Its typical and most highly developed plant life is a very primitive giant fern; its top animal life is a proto-insect which hasn't even developed colonies. I am not speaking of transplanted Terran flora and fauna—our stuff moves in and brushes the native stuff aside.
     With its evolutionary progress held down almost to zero by lack of radiation and a consequent most unhealthily low mutation rate, native life forms on Sanctuary just haven't had a decent chance to evolve and aren't fit to compete. Their gene patterns remain fixed for a relatively long time; they aren't adaptable—like being forced to play the same bridge hand over and over again, for eons, with no hope of getting a better one.
     As long as they just competed with each other, this didn't matter too much—morons among morons, so to speak. But when types that had evolved on a planet enjoying high radiation and fierce competition were introduced, the native stuff was outclassed.
     Now all the above is perfectly obvious from high school biology . . . but the high forehead from the research station there who was telling me about this brought up a point I would never have thought of.
     What about the human beings who have colonized Sanctuary?
     Not transients like me, but the colonists who live there, many of whom were born there, and whose descendants will live there, even into the umpteenth generation—what about those descendants? It doesn't do a person any harm not to be radiated; in fact it's a bit safer—leukemia and some types of cancer are almost unknown there. Besides that, the economic situation is at present all in their favor; when they plant a field of (Terran) wheat, they don't even have to clear out the weeds. Terran wheat displaces anything native.
     But the descendants of those colonists won't evolve. Not much, anyhow. This chap told me that they could improve a little through mutation from other causes, from new blood added by immigration, and from natural selection among the gene patterns they already own—but that is all very minor compared with the evolutionary rate on Terra and on any usual planet. So what happens? Do they stay frozen at their present level while the rest of the human race moves on past them, until they are living fossils, as out of place as a pithecanthropus in a spaceship?
     Or will they worry about the fate of their descendants and dose themselves regularly with X-rays or maybe set off lots of dirty-type nuclear explosions each year to build up a fallout reservoir in their atmosphere? (Accepting, of course, the immediate dangers of radiation to themselves in order to provide a proper genetic heritage of mutation for the benefit of their descendants.)
     This bloke predicted that they would not do anything. He claims that the human race is too individualistic, too self-centered, to worry that much about future generations. He says that the genetic impoverishment of distant generations through lack of radiation is something most people are simply incapable of worrying about. And of course it is a far-distant threat; evolution works so slowly, even on Terra, that the development of a new species is a matter of many, many thousands of years.

From STARSHIP TROOPERS by Robert Heinlein (1959)

Improving lives doesn’t.

Among the baker’s dozen of known galactic species that crawled their way to sapience, sociopsychologists were astonished to find that every one of them had the same intelligence. The bipeds from Earth, the avian dinosaurs from that one outer rim world, the furry bear-creatures that ate methane, put any together and they score within 10 points of each other on an IQ test. This wasn’t true for any other attribute. (Im)mortality? widely varying. Genders? Different systems. Biochemistry? Carbon through Arsenic. Size, shape? Hell no.

But intelligence? Why that?

It turns out that entry-level sapience evolves as a survival trait. Hunt/find your food, develop technologies to make that easier, maybe do some farming, and so on. After basic establishment of civilization, mortality drops by factors in the hundreds or thousands. Population booms, and you start getting plagues from the species concentrating in cities.

This is where it gets interesting. See, once you have plagues, you need doctors. And once you have doctors, you start thinking about all of the other ways to cheat death. So the plagues are beaten back by vaccinations or antibiotics, and then your civ starts concentrating on welfare and quality-of-life.

Pretty soon, your species is living at the maximum, or nearly, of their theoretically longest lives. For some species, this is an extension from a lifespan of decades to millennia.

This is bad.

At best, evolution stagnates. Your weak and stupid have the same chance of reproduction as anyone else–and they’re certainly not going to die before influencing their environments. Diseases that should have killed are mere annoyances, chomping futilely against a barrier of solid medical science. Predators that once ravaged tribes now are confined in zoos or hunted to extinction.

So no one gets any smarter.

The long and short of it is, after a certain point, intelligence is no longer a tremendous advantage to survival and, subsequently, traditional selection factors are abrogated completely. That is point at which medical science develops, which itself happens only when sapients begin the process of introspection and develop sympathy–that is, shortly after the development of sapience itself.


(ed note: Councilor Lake is a sector governor of the Union. Velmeran is an alien Starwolf. Valthyrra is a Starwolf artificial intelligent computer.)

     Which was much easier said than done, Councilor Lake reflected. And just the beginning of his own problems. The human race was dying, or at least degenerating to the point that it could no longer care for itself. The genetic message that made a human was deteriorating; random, detrimental mutations were not only occurring at an alarming rate but were being passed into the common genetic pool. There was no determining the exact cause, although the Councilor preferred to believe that mankind had been too long removed from the laws of natural selection that had guided its evolution.
     People were smaller than they had been in the first days of space flight, slighter of build and gentler of mood and feature. Unfortunately, people were also less intelligent than they had been, less able to reason and remember. Mental deficiency and imbalance claimed a fourth of the population, and another fourth was genetically sterile. It was a problem that had been a very long time coming, but it had finally become so bad that the High Council could no longer ignore it. For in another thousand years the machinery of the Union, of human civilization itself, would grind to a halt for want of maintenance. That might seem like a very long time, but for a problem fifty thousand years in the making, it was already too late.
     Still, Councilor Lake wanted to save what he could. And if stern measures were taken now, a large part of the Union could be saved. The only solution was to enforce the sterilization of large segments of the population, intervening where nature had failed. The general population would not take such controls lightly. The military would be needed to enforce order, especially on those worlds that bore little love or loyalty for the Union from the start. And for that, the problem that the Starwolves represented would have to be eliminated. Or at least reduced to a manageable level.

     "But if we (Starwolves) are not destroying the Union, what is?" Velmeran asked.
     "We see the results, but we can only argue the cause," Lake explained. "Personally, I believe it is because we were not meant for civilized life. Nature gave us hands and a brain so that we could tie a rock to a stick to make a better club. All the rest has been our own idea. Then we began the process of removing ourselves from our environment, the circumstances and conditions that shaped us. Our evolution has stalled out; our civilization promises equal chances for both the weak and strong, and nature intended harsher rules. Cut off from any shaping influence, our species has begun to decline right down to the genetic level.
     "The genetic code that defines a human is becoming too foggy and ragged to read properly. Over a third of our population is genetically sterile. Random mutation has driven infant mortality to levels that we have not known since the dark ages. Mental deficiency and mental imbalance claim a quarter of the population. Do you wonder if we are not in trouble? Our race is dying out, for want of proper maintenance."

     "There is something that I would like to know," Velmeran said quickly. "Have you kept any statistics on the genetic deterioration of the human race?"
     "Genetic deterioration?" Valthyrra's lenses seemed almost to blink in confusion. "Actually, it is hard for me to make any valid observations, but that does not change the fact of its reality. Our own human worlds are in slow decline, and there is every indication that the Union worlds are proceeding at a much greater pace. Especially the inner worlds — it is getting so bad that if all the machines were to suddenly stop, it is doubtful that they could ever get anything running again."
     "Why?" Velmeran asked.
     "Because Mother Nature is a stern mistress," she explained, the information analysis, storage and retrieval systems in her warming to the task. "The one rule of all life is change, and the driving force is survival. But that is a game that modern, civilized man has not been forced to play in nearly sixty thousand years. Nature intended that only the best should thrive and multiply, but for so long now nearly everyone survives — and reproduces indiscriminately. Change continued, but in a random, ineffectual manner, and once begun the process accelerates itself.

From THE STARWOLVES by Thorarinn Gunnarsson (1988)

He pried one eye open, then the other. The voice belonged to a girl of about twenty-one who was standing next to the bed, gazing down at Jason. She was beautiful.

Jason’s eyes opened wider as he realized she was very beautiful—with the kind of beauty he had never found on the planets in the center of the galaxy. The women he had known all ran to pale skin, hollow shoulders, grey faces covered with tints and dyes. They were the product of centuries of breeding weaknesses back into the race, as the advance of medicine kept alive more and more non-survival types.

This girl was the direct opposite in every way. She was the product of survival on Pyrrus. The heavy gravity that produced bulging muscles in men, brought out firm strength in strap-like female muscles. She had the taut figure of a goddess, tanned skin and perfectly formed face. Her hair, which was cut short, circled her head with a golden crown. The only unfeminine thing about her was the gun she wore in a bulky forearm holster.

From DEATHWORLD by Harry Harrison (1960)


In the real world, a Mutant is an organism that suffered a mutation while in the embryonic state. The natural occurrence of genetic mutations is integral to the process of evolution.

The vast majority of mutations either [A] have little or no noticeable effect or [B] kills the embryo before it can be born. The process of evolution is advanced by zillions of tiny mutations over zillions of generations, culled by the relentless forces of natural selection.

No, exposure to radiation will not turn you into a mutant. But if your gonads are irradiated, your future children might be.

Early science fiction authors either didn't understand mutations or found the actual process incredibly boring. So they jazzed it up.

They frantically waved their hands and breathlessly announced that mutation could lead to the Next Stage Of Human Evolution™ !

This concept contains two ignorant fallacies for the price of one. First off it makes the ridiculous assumption that there are "levels" of evolution (measured by what metric, pray tell?) then it compounds the stupidity by postulating that evolution is working towards a specific goal ("orthogenesis") and you can use these non-existent evolutionary levels to measure the progress to the non-existent goal. The tell-tale sign of the latter is the phrase "more evolved."

In reality, the only "goal" of evolution is for the organism to be able to survive and thrive in whatever the current conditions happen to be in this geological epoch. Since conditions change with time, the goal of evolution is a moving target.

Early SF writers who were evolution-theory morons assumed that "intelligence" was the goal of evolutionary progress, the "ultimate life-form" at the top of the evolutionary ladder. The ultimate intelligent life-form was some sort of giant brain. Examples include the Arisans from E. E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman series.

This would lead more evolved females to demand Cesarean section. You see the relatively large size of the human baby's head is the reason why of all the species on Terra, humans are pretty much the only ones who suffer painful child birth. The evolution of a larger pelvis has not kept up with the evolution of larger baby heads.

Latter writers assumed that the goal was a set of superhuman abilities (you know: super-strength, advanced intelligence, immunity to various lethal things, and of course psionic abilities). Examples include Adam Warlock. Others cut to the chase and postulated that the end goal was to evolve humans into energy beings. Examples from Star Trek include the Organians, the Q, and arguably the Melkot, the Thasian, the Metrons, the Medusans, and the Zetarian.

The "levels of evolution" nonsense also lead to nonsensical stories where radiation from nuclear testing creates a crop of mutant children all with the same mutation. In reality mutations are more random than Pi. Not all such stories have this flaw, but there are enough to be really annoying. The only way to get lots of mutants with the same random mutation is if they share a common ancestor.

The stupid writers also got the mechanism wrong. In reality if somebody was exposed to a mutagen, their future offspring might be mutants because the DNA in the germ cells got mangled prior to procreation. But the writers were under the misapprehension that the mutagen would transform the poor exposed person into a mutant on the spot, much like the way cosmic ray exposure created the Fantastic Four. This erroneous concept was apparently created by Hugo de Vries in his 1901 story Die Mutationstheorie.

Mutants are not just people either, don't forget the radiation-spawned giant ants in the movie Them!.

None of this is scientifically accurate, but it is very exciting reading.

In Edmond Hamilton's 1931 story The Man Who Evolved, the concepts were twisted for a shock ending. The mad scientist Dr. John Pollard figures out that cosmic rays are responsible for evolution (sort of true) so exposing a person to concentrated cosmic rays will rapidly evolve them to the next stage of evolution (nope, author is unclear on the concept, it will just fry them to a crisp). With each treatment his brain becomes larger while his body becomes more spindly. At the next to the last stage he is nothing but a huge brain feeding on telepathic energy. Unfortunately for him the final stage is a pathetic primitive single-celled organism. Because apparently the levels of evolution are arranged more as a circle than as a rising staircase.

After 1945 science fiction writers finally got it through their heads that radiation would cause you to have mutant children, but not grant you any unusual powers apart from a drastically shortened lifespan. But they were still stuck on that goal oriented evolution nonsense.

The authors did however invented a brand new trope: a world wide rise in the number of mutants born due to either nuclear testing or in the apocalyptic aftermath of a nuclear war. "Children of the Atom" so to speak.

In science fiction, mutants from low level rises of background radiation due to nuclear testing tend to be superior beings with super powers. The X-Men and Perry Rhodan's Mutant Corps fall into this category.

Post-atomic-war mutants on the other hand tend to be pathetic cripples with misshapen bodies and the wrong number of limbs. In Forrest J. Ackerman's shaggy-dog story The Mute Question, the muties have a proverb: two heads are better than none.

The muties of Heinlein's Orphans of the Sky fall into this category, though in this case the radiation is not from an atomic war. As it turns out the mutie Joe-Jim also has two heads.

In the X-Men stories there is often deep-seated prejudice against mutants, since average humans have the not unreasonable fear that mutants will supplant them. Draconian anti-mutant laws are passed, and periodically there are attempts at mutant genocide. Which just goes to show what idiots average humans are. Especially given the stupendous superpowers possessed by mutants and how angry they become when you try pulling that "final solution" atrocity on them.

There is also plenty of "mutants are evil" garbage in John Wyndham's The Chrysalids. Take a post-nuclear apocalypse community with about Amish levels of technology, mix in an oppressive religion with a paranoid fear of the new, and you have a formula for a real eugenic nightmare. Mutations are considered to be "Blasphemies" and must be either killed or sterilised and banished to the Fringes.

In the Perry Rhodan novels, Terra discovers that the solar system is surrounded by highly advanced interstellar empires that would love to annex the planet. He needs an ace-in-the-hole or Terra is doomed. The Mutant Corps is a team of mutants with psionic powers which the alien empires cannot cope with. The 18 founding-members were mostly Japanese who were born shortly after the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The X-Men are sort of the Marvel comics version of Perry Rhodan's Mutant Corps, since X-Men issue #1 came out about two years after Perry Rhodan volume 6.

The archtypical superhuman mutants are the Slans from the eponymous novel by A. E. van Vogt. Every subsequent novel with "Homo Superior" mutants owes something to the Slans (though the novel is sadly unknown nowadays). When it came out, science fiction fans embraced the concept. This is because they naturally figured that they were Slans. The fans started using the pejorative term "mundane" for non-fans, sort of a science-fiction-fan version of the term "Muggle." A house or building where lots of SF fans lived was called a "Slan-shack."

There are a couple of science fiction novels dealing with mutants and galactic empires. They imply that mutants tend to appear when an empire is in the "decline and fall" stage. In his immortal Foundation and Empire, Isaac Asimov has the mutant the Mule appear during the Dark Ages after the fall of empire. In Andre Norton's Star Ranger the historian mentions that the current time of galactic empire collapse is when "change mutants" make their appearance.

Other novels mention dark rumors about how mutant occur on those planets beyond the rim of the galactic empire. An example is John Brunner's Altar On Asconel.

In Jack Williamson's Seetee Ship and Seetee Shock, the children of asteroid miners occasionally are born with abilities useful in the space environment. Rob McGee is immune to radiation, and has an ability to sense gravitational masses. This allows him to navigate the asteroid belt with relative ease. McGee is the first evidence of asterites evolving into humans suited for living in space.


Blink now, and man is creeping along the galactic rim, in those areas which were later to be regarded as the home of mutants and pirates—but which, significantly, were and remain the only areas where interstellar ships have been built by human beings.

(ed note: Human Empire ships are xenopaleotechnology inherited from a long extinct Forerunner race)

“From me you won’t get the full story,” Vix countered. “I guess no one knows it except those devils on Asconel—Bucyon, and the witch Lydis, and maybe that monster Shry!” He shot a keen look at Spartak. “You flinched when I said ‘witch,’ and ‘devil’ too—don’t you hold with such terms?”

Spartak looked at the table before him, choosing his words carefully. “There are certainly records of mutations developing possessed of what are generally called supernormal talents,” he granted. “Indeed, it was part of Imperial policy for some millennnia to maintain the stability of the status quo by locating such mutations and—if they hadn’t already been put to death by supersititious peasants or townsfolk— transporting them to the lonely Rim worlds. There are said to be whole planets populated by such mutations now. But words like, ‘witch’ have—ah—unfortunate connotations.”

From THE ALTAR ON ASCONEL by John Brunner (1965)

     “I believe that you did break free from him,” Zicti said soberly. “Which is why I have laid the compulsion on you — But, let us examine the facts — you men of Ylene are six point six on the sensitive scale, are you not?”
     “Yes. But Arcturians are supposed to be only five point nine— ”
     “True. But there is always the chance lately that one may be dealing with a change mutant. And this is the proper time in the wave of history for change mutants to appear. A pity we do not know more of Cummi’s background. If he is a mutant that would explain a great deal.”
     “Mutants!” Kartr repeated and he shivered. “I was on Kablo when Pertavar started the Mutant Rebellion— ”
     “Then you know what can come of such an upcurve in mutant births. There are good and bad results from all changes.”

From STAR RANGERS by Andre Norton (1953)

“Joe, what is a superman?”

Gilead did not answer.

“Very well, let’s chuck the term,” Baldwin went on. “It’s been overused and misused and beat up until it has mostly comic connotations. I used it for shock value and I didn’t shock you. The term ‘supermen’ has come to have a fairy tale meaning, conjuring up pictures of x-ray eyes, odd sense or senses, double hearts, uncuttable skin, steel muscles—an adolescent’s dream of the dragon-killing hero. Tripe, of course. Joe, what is a man? What is man that makes him more than an animal? Settle that and we’ll take a crack at defining a superman—or New Man, homo novis, who must displace homo sapiens—is displacing him—because he is better able to survive than is homo sap. I’m not trying to define myself, I’ll leave it up to my associates and the inexorable processes of time as to whether or not I am a superman, a member of the new species of man—same test to apply to you.”


“You. You show disturbing symptoms of being homo novis, Joe, in a sloppy, ignorant, untrained fashion. Not likely, but you just might be one of the breed. Now—what is man? What is the one thing he can do better than animals which is so strong a survival factor that it outweighs all the things that animals of one sort or another can do much better than he can?”

“He can think,”

“I fed you that answer; no prize for it. Okay, you pass yourself off a man; let’s see you do something, What is the one possible conceivable factor—or factors, if you prefer—which the hypothetical superman could have, by mutation or magic or any means, and which could be added to this advantage which man already has and which has enabled him to dominate this planet against the unceasing opposition of a million other species of fauna? Some factor that would make the domination of man by his successor, as inevitable as your domination over a hound dog? Think, Joe. What is the necessary direction of evolution to the next dominant species?”

Giiead engaged in contemplation for what was for him a long time. There were so many lovely attributes that a man might have: to be able to see both like a telescope and microscope, to see the insides of things, to see throughout the spectrum, to have hearing of the same order, to be immune to disease, to grow a new arm or leg, to fly through the air without bothering with silly gadgets like helicopters or jets, to walk unharmed the ocean bottom, to work without tiring—Yet the eagle could fly and he was nearly extinct, even though his eyesight was better than man’s. A dog has better smell and hearing; seals swim better,balance better, and furthermore can store oxygen. Bats can survive where men would starve or die of hardship; they are smart and pesky hard to kill. Rats could—Wait! Could tougher, smarter rats displace man? No, it Just wasn’t in them; too small a brain.

“To be able to think better,” Gilead answered almost instantly. “Hand the man a cigar! Supermen are superthinkers;anything else is a side issue. I’ll allow the possibility of super-somethings which might exterminate or dominate mankind other than by outsmarting him in his own racket-thought. But I deny that it is possible for a man to conceive in discrete terms what such a super-something would be or how this something would win out. New Man will beat out homo sap in homo sap’s own specialty—rational thought, the ability to recognize data, store them, integrate them, evaluate correctly the result, and arrive at a correct decision. That is how man got to be champion; the creature who can do it better is the coming champion. Sure, there are other survival factors, good health, good sense organs, fast reflexes, but they aren’t even comparable, as the long, rough history of mankind has proved over and over—Marat in his bath, Roosevelt in his wheelchair, Caesar with his epilepsy and his bad stomach. Nelson with one eye and one arm, blind Milton; when the chips are down it’s brain that wins, not the body’s tools.’…

…“We defined thinking as integrating data and arriving at correct answers. Look around you. Most people do that stunt just well enough to get to the corner store and back without breaking a leg. If the average man thinks at all, he does silly things like generalizing from a single datum. He uses one-valued logics. If he is exceptionally bright, he may use two-valued, ‘either-or’ logic to arrive at his wrong answers. If he is hungry, hurt, or personally interested in the answer, he can’t use any sort of logic and will discard an observed fact as blithely as he will stake his life on a piece of wishful thinking. He uses the technical miracles created by superior men without wonder nor surprise, as a kitten accepts a bowl of milk. Far from aspiring to higher reasoning, he is not even aware that higher reasoning exists. He classes his own mental process as being of the same sort as the genius of an Einstein. Man is not a rational animal; he is a rationalizing animal.

“For explanations of a universe that confuses him he seizes onto numerology, astrology, hysterical religions, and other fancy ways to go crazy. Having accepted such glorified nonsense, facts make no impression on him, even if at the cost of his own life. Joe, one of the hardest things to believe is the abysmal depth of human stupidity.

“That is why there is always room at the top, why a man with just a leetle more on the ball can so easily become governor, millionaire, or college president—and why homo sap is sure to be displaced by New Man, because there is so much room for improvement and evolution never stops.

“Here and there among ordinary men is a rare individual who really thinks, can and does use logic in at least one field—he’s often as stupid as the rest outside his study or laboratory—but he can think, if he’s not disturbed or sick or frightened. This rare individual is responsible for all the progress made by the race; the others reluctantly adopt his results. Much as the ordinary man dislikes and distrusts and persecutes the process of thinking he is forced to accept the results occasionally, because thinking is efficient compared with his own maunderings. He may still plant his corn in the dark of the Moon but he will plant better corn developed by better men than he.

“Still rarer is the man who thinks habitually, who applies reason, rather than habit pattern, to all his activity. Unless he masques himself, his is a dangerous life; he is regarded as queer, untrustworthy, subversive of public morals; he is a pink monkey among brown monkeys—a fatal mistake. Unless the pink monkey can dye himself brown before he is caught.

“The brown monkey’s instinct to kill is correct; such men are dangerous to all monkey customs.

“Rarest of all is the man who can and does reason at all times, quickly, accurately, inclusively, despite hope or fear or bodily distress, without egocentric bias or thalmic disturbance, with correct memory, with clear distinction between fact, assumption, and non-fact. Such men exist, Joe; they are ‘New Man’—human in all respects, indistinguishable in appearance or under the scalpel from homo sap, yet as unlike him in action as the Sun is unlike a single candle.”

Gilead said, “Are you that sort?”

“You will continue to form your own opinions.”

“And you think I may be, too?”

“Could be. I’ll have more data in a few days.”

Gilead laughed until the tears came. “Kettle Belly, if I’m the future hope of the race, they had better send in the second team quick. Sure I’m brighter than most of the jerks I run into, but, as you say, the competition isn’t stiff. But I haven’t any sublime aspirations. I’ve got as lecherous an eye as the next man. I enjoy wasting time over a glass of beer. I just don’t feel like a superman.”

“Speaking of beer, let’s have some.” Baldwin got up and obtained two cans of the brew. “Remember that Mowgli felt like a wolf. Being a New Man does not divorce you from human sympathies and pleasures. There have been New Men all through history; I doubt if most of them suspected that their difference entitled them to call themselves a different breed. Then they went ahead and bred with the daughters of men, diffusing their talents through the racial organism, preventing them from effectuating until chance brought the genetic factors together again.”

“Then I take it that New Man is not a special mutation?”

“Huh? Who isn’t a mutation, Joe? All of us are a collection of millions of mutations. Around the globe hundreds of mutations have taken place in our human germ plasm while we have been sitting here. No, homo novis didn’t come about because great grandfather stood too close to a cyclotron; homo novis was not even a separate breed until he became aware of himself, organized, and decided to hang on to what his genes had handed him. You could mix New Man back into the race today and lose him; he’s merely a variation becoming a species. A million years from now is another matter; I venture to predict that New Man, of that year and model, won’t be able to interbreed with homo sap—no viable offspring.”

“You don’t expect present man—homo sapiens—to disappear?”

“Not necessarily. The dog adapted to man. Probably more dogs now than in umpteen B.C.—and better fed.”

“And man would be New Man’s dog.”

“Again not necessarily. Consider the cat.”

“The idea is to skim the cream of the race’s germ plasm and keep it biologically separate until the two races are permanently distinct. You chaps sound like a bunch of stinkers. Kettle Belly.”

“Monkey talk,”

“Perhaps. The new race would necessarily run things—”

“Do you expect New Man to decide grave matters by counting common man’s runny noses?”

“No, that was my point. Postulating such a new race, the result is inevitable. Kettle Belly, I confess to a monkey prejudice in favor of democracy, human dignity, and freedom. It goes beyond logic; it is the kind of a world I like. In my job I have mingled with the outcasts of society, snared their slumgullion. Stupid they may be, bad they are not—I have no wish to see them become domestic animals.”

For the first time the big man showed concern. His persona as “King of the Kopsters,” master merchandiser, slipped away; he sat in brooding majesty, a lonely and unhappy figure. “I know, Joe. They are of us; their little dignities, their nobilities, are not lessened by their sorry state. Yet it must be.”

“Why? New Man will come—granted. But why hurry the process?”

“Ask yourself.” He swept a hand toward the oubliette (where he destroyed the last record of the easy technique to make the sun go nova). ‘Ten minutes ago you and I saved this planet, all our race. It’s the hour of the knife. Some one must be on guard if the race is to live; there is no one but us. To guard effectively we New Men must be organized, must never fumble any crisis like this-and must increase our numbers. We are few now, Joe; as the crises increase, we must increase to meet them. Eventually—and it’s a dead race with time—we must take over and make certain that baby never plays with matches.”

He stopped and brooded. “I confess to that same affection for democracy, Joe. But it’s like yearning for the Santa Claus you believed in as a child. For a hundred and fifty years or so democracy, or something like it, could flourish safely. The issues were such as to be settled without disaster by the votes of common men, befogged and ignorant as they were. But now, if the race is simply to stay alive, political decisions depend on real knowledge of such things as nuclear physics, planetary ecology, genetic theory, even system mechanics. They aren’t up to it, Joe. With goodness and more will than they possess less than one in a thousand could stay awake over one page of nuclear physics; they can’t learn what they must know.”

Gilead brushed it aside. “It’s up to us to brief them. Their hearts are all right; tell them the score—they’ll come down with the right answers.”

“No, Joe. We’ve tried it; it does not work. As you say, most of them are good, the way a dog can be noble and good. Yet there are bad ones—Mrs. Keithley and company and more like her. Reason is poor propaganda when opposed by the yammering, unceasing lies of shrewd and evil and self-serving men. The little man has no way to judge and the shoddy lies are packaged more attractively. There is no way to offer color to a colorblind man, nor is there any way for us to give the man of imperfect brain the canny skill to distinguish a lie from a truth.

“No, Joe. The gulf between us and them is narrow, but it is very deep. We cannot close it.”

“I wish,” said Gilead, “that you wouldn’t class me with your ‘New Man’, I feel more at home on the other side.”

“You will decide for yourself which side you are on, as each of us has done.”

From GULF by Robert Heinlein (1949)

At least half the people Volyova saw were Ultranauts, evidenced by their tendency towards paleness, spindly build, flaunted body augmentations, swathes of black leather and acres of glinting jewellery, tattoos and trade-trophies. None of the Ultras she saw were extreme chimerics. with the possible exception of Hegazi, who probably qualified as one of the half-dozen most augmented people in the carousel. But the majority wore their hair in the customary Ultra manner, fashioned in thick braids to indicate the number of reefersleep stretches they had done, and many of them had their clothes slashed to expose their prosthetic parts. Looking at these specimens, Volyova had to remind herself that she was part of the same culture.

Ultras, of course, were not the only spacegoing faction spawned by humanity. SkyJacks—at least here— made up a significant portion of the others she saw. They were spacedwellers to be sure, but they did not crew interstellar ships and so their outlook was very different to the wraithlike Ultras. with their dreadlocks and old-fashioned expressions.

There were others still. Icecombers were a Skyjack offshoot; psychomodified for the extreme solitude which came from working the Kuiper belt zones, and they kept themselves to themselves with ferocious dedication. Gillies were aquatically modified humans who breathed liquid air; capable of crewing short-range, high-gee ships: they constituted a sizeable fraction of the system's police force. Some gillies were so incapable of normal respiration and locomotion that they had to move around in huge robotic fishtanks when not on duty.

And then there were Conjoiners: descendants of an experimental clique on Mars who had systematically upgraded their minds, swapping cells for machines, until something sudden and drastic had happened. In one moment, they had escalated to a new mode of consciousness—what they called the Transenlightenment—precipitating a brief but nasty war in the process. Conjoiners were easy to pick out in crowds: recently they had bio-engineered huge and beautiful cranial crests for themselves, veined to dissipate the excess heat produced by the furious machines in their heads. There were fewer of them these days. so they tended to draw attention. Other human factions—like the Demarchists. who had long allied themselves with the Conjoiners—were acutely aware that only Conjoiners knew how to build the engines which powered lighthuggers.

From REVELATION SPACE by Alastair Reynolds (2000)

Weather Control

Controlling the weather has been a dream for hundreds of years, especially for farmers (as David Drake said in one of his novels, nobody ever fooled a farmer into thinking that life was fair). The first mention in science fiction was in the 1759 "Rasselas" by Samuel Johnson.

Sadly, the forces of weather represent such huge amounts of energy that a hurricane would laugh at nuclear warheads (hurricane energy is the equivalent to exploding a 10-megaton nuclear bomb every 20 minutes, for the duration of the storm). The main real-world weather modification is the wimpy cloud-seeding technique. NOAA talks big about stopping hurricane with laser and dumping liquid nitrogen, but none of this has actually materialized. It would probably be more cost-effective to build a dome over vulnerable cities.

In the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, weather control has its own theme page. And TV Tropes has a page about Weather-Control Machines.

Weather modification would also come in handy if you were terraforming a planet. The planet's weather is liable to become quite frisky before it settles down.

A good exploration of the political implications of weather control is Ben Bova's The Weathermakers. Another is Theodore Thomas's The Weather Man.

Like almost all other scientific techniques, weather modification can be weaponized. One example in science fiction is Leonard Leokum and Paul Posnick's Weather War. In William Cochrane's Weather War, the US military give their weather combat unit a gizmo that can initiate a tornado in certain types of weather conditions. They are surprised when a hurricane makes a ninety-degree turn in course and heads straight for US cities. This is an obvious attack, and the obvious location for the controlling equipment is the eye of the storm. The US weather combat unit frantically initiates multiple tornadoes in the eye, until hurricane hunter aircraft observe a tornado wadding up a Soviet warship like used aluminum foil. The hurricane abruptly dissipates.


      Star Ship Tethys, now loading colonists and supplies for the fourth planet of Sirius, an old Colony, well established, rich in land, rich in Earth-mutated wheat, a sub-tropical paradise with room for many thousands of families to settle and grow, almost self-supporting now and soon to apply for independent elections and representation in the Colonial Council.
     Star Ship Danton, taking men and machinery to the newly opened colony on Aldebaran III, a bitter place until Earth weather technicians and Earth civil engineers had carved a foothold for hungry Earthmen to find homes.

     "Why do you want to go?" his father had asked him. "What are you looking for, Lars? What do you think you're going to find out there on a Star Ship that you won't find right here at home?"
     Lars had grinned, a little embarrassed. Just like Dad, he thought, to dispense with preliminaries and speak his mind bluntly. "I don't know, for sure. I just know I've got to do it. I want to go where nobody ever went before. I want to do things that nobody else has ever done, or ever could do." He patted Black's massive head, felt the dog muzzle his hand affectionately. "Black knows why I want to go. Ask him why he always wants to see what the other side of a hill looks like."
     "And you have to go on a Star Ship for this?" Dad lit his pipe and watched his son's face carefully. "You think all the frontiers are out there? You're wrong, son. Look at our farm, our Greenland. Why, in your Grandfather Heldrigsson's day our whole Greenland was an icecap!"
     Lars shrugged. "The weather technicians—" he said.
     "But isn't that a challenge? They took an icy wasteland here and made it the richest wheatland in the world. Look at the valley of the Amazon. It was a jungle once. Now its crops feed millions of people. Siberia, Antarctica-rich lands, son. There's work for you here on Earth."

(ed note: since this novel was written we now know that turning the Amazon rain forest into crop lands would be a biodiversity disaster of the first magnitude. And the joke is real-world farmers who have turned bits of the Amazon into farm plots have discovered Amazon soil is pathetic for growing crops.)

From ROCKET TO LIMBO by Alan E. Nourse (1957)

      They emerged on a bridgeway and let its moving belt carry them along, dizzily high over the city. At this altitude, Langley could see that Lora was built as a single integrated unit. No building stood alone. They were all connected, and there was a solid roof underneath decking over the lower levels.
     Chanthavar pointed to the misty horizon, where a single great tower reared. “Weather-control station,” he said. “Most of what you see belongs to the city, Ministerial public park, but over that way is the boundary of an estate belonging to Tarahoe. He raises grain on it, being a back-to-nature crank.” “Haven’t you any small farms?” asked Langley.
     “Space, no!” Chanthavar looked surprised. “They do on the Centaurian planets, but I’d find it hard to imagine a more inefficient system. A lot of our food is synthesized; the rest is grown on Ministerial lands.”

     Weather control had decreed rain for this area today, and Lora stood under a low gray sky with her highest towers piercing its mists. Looking out of the window which made one wall of his living room, Brannoch saw only a wet metal gleam, fading into the downward rush of rain. Now and then lightning flickered, and when he told the window to open there was a cool damp breeze on his face.

From NO WORLD OF THEIR OWN by Poul Anderson (1955)

Lady Space Taxi

This is an exercise in "everything old is new again." That is, I'm going to look at an interesting historical situation and see if it can be adapted to a rocketpunk future.

Back in 1890 in Victorian England, society decreed that a woman's place was in the home. Their only approved jobs were child-rearing, cooking and cleaning. They were not suppose to leave the house unless accompanied by a husband or father. They certainly were not supposed to have anything approaching independence. Let alone being involved in business, politics, or education.

Just to assure that totalitarian state of affairs, there really was no way for an independent woman to get around short of using her two feet. An average person earned a weekly salary of $10. Horses were outrageously expensive ($150 in 1890 dollars) and required stables and fodder. Horse and buggy had most of the disadvantages of a horse along with the added expense of a buggy. And an automobile was out of the question ($750).

But then came the bicycle. Only $3 to $15. A very affordable price for freedom. Suddenly women were everywhere. They were no longer at home, out of sight and out of mind. They were no longer segregated. And they started seeing what they were missing. Women started advocating for themselves.

Bicycles changed everything. At least when it came to woman's rights.

Predictably the men lost their freaking minds.

Women on bikes were immoral, bicycling ruined their health, it would give them the horror of "Bicycle Face". I have a sneaking suspicion that some of the anti-bicycling propaganda leaked into the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz. You know, the scene where the horrible ugly Miss Gulch on her bicycle transforms into a horrible ugly witch riding a broomstick. Real subtle, that.

But the real reason the men were incandescent with rage was because bicycling kick-started the Suffragette Movement.

In 1896 Susan B. Anthony said "Let me tell you what I think of bicycling, I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world." It allowed suffragettes to move from town to town, spreading the word about female emancipation. They could do canvassing to get laws changed. Bicycles became a symbol of female emancipation. Bicycling showed women that they could go out and do everything they'd been prohibited from doing for centuries. And if they could do that, what else were women capable of?

OK, now lets transpose this into a rocketpunk future, with asteroid colonies and stuff.

First the science fiction author needs a plausible excuse to turn the clock back and negate decades of womans rights. Actually, there is an all too logical reason this may well happen, at least in non-planet-based space colonies.

With any new settlement, with respect to increasing the population of a settlement, women are a more critical item than men. Meaning the population growth of a settlement will be more drastically slowed by losing females than losing males (for obvious reasons you can read about in the link). "Losing" can mean either by death, sterility, or enough radiation damage to the gametes that fertilization results in a non-viable embryo.

This means any settlement that wants to reverse the demographic shift and drastically increase the population growth is going to have to protect the females from hazards. And encourage them to become baby-making machines. In other words: negate decades of woman's rights.

This will really mean lots of cloistering if this is a space habitat. The space environment is just buzzing with deadly radiation, which can fry one's gonads at a much lower radiation levels than lethal doses. Men can make deposits into lead-lined sperm banks to avoid this, but while a woman can do the same with ovums they cannot do the same with their uterus. So the males get to leave the bounds of the space colony and fly around in spaceships, while the women have to stay at home. And take care of her five babies.

All this is a plausible excuse to explain a neo-Victorian attitude towards women in a rocketpunk future. Please note that this in no way mandates that it will happen, it is just an excuse for the science fiction author.

Now, stage 2. Just like in 1890, the space habitat will have grown to the point where it has a viable population size. Women no longer have to be baby-making machines. It is time for equality. And predictably the conservative men are going to foam at the mouth and fight like cornered rats for the status quo. Because change terrifies them.

Gee, ain't it just too bad that woman can't travel around in space, what with spacecraft being prohibitively expensive? Tsk, tsk. I guess you gotta stay at home dearie, no matter how much you want to go places and do things. Now make me a sandwich.

Time for stage 3. The introduction of the bicycle. Or in this case, the space taxi. Or even better, a jury-rigged space taxi. And watch all the men lose their freaking minds.

The rest of the story background just writes itself, don't it? There will probably also be a futuristic Edith Margaret Garrud, teaching the women free-fall Suffrajitsu.

And in the sky, a constellation called Susan B. Anthony smiles.

Omnipresent Advertising

This used to sound like a silly over-the-top sci-fi warning back at the turn of the century. Nowadays, anybody who tries surfing the web without an ad-blocker knows it is cold hard truth. It is really annoying that we are living in the future, but instead of rocket packs we got pop-up ads.

Advertising is everywhere, especially in places with no obvious way of monetizing. Such as newspaper websites.

Leela: Didn't you have ads in the 20th century?
Fry: Well, sure, but not in our dreams. Only on TV and radio. And in magazines and movies and at ball games and on buses and milk cartons and T-shirts and bananas and written in the sky. But not in our dreams!
Futurama, "A Fishful of Dollars"

Something of a stock dystopia recently especially in cyberpunk, a popular depiction of a future where consumerism has gone mad shows a world where it is impossible to do anything - even eat, sleep or go to the bathroom - without being told by a chirpy computer telescreen that Soylent Soy is Crunchtastic, Brand X pillows are 20% More Awesome than your current one and unless you buy the Flushomatic 10000, there's a good chance you'll accidentally kill yourself.

The adverts can take the form of Blipverts, Sex Sells, Enforced Plugs, The Man Is Sticking It to the Man, Subliminal Advertising, Trope Co. Trope of the Week, May Contain Evil and the Ridiculously Loud Commercial. Often leads in-universe Repeating Ad, when the barrage of advertising overwhelms the population.

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


      Will there be no end to people trying to muck up the night sky? Around this time last year it was a disco ball sent into low-Earth orbit. Now a Russian startup has had the colossally dense idea of sticking beaming billboards up there, to shine advertising back down to Earth.
     Putting aside the fact that advertising is already ubiquitous, the notion of adding a significant source of light pollution to the night sky has astronomers - professional and amateur alike - fuming.
     The startup is called StartRocket, and it hopes to use an array of tiny cubesats to create a programmable display in the night sky.
     Orbiting at a low-Earth altitude of 400-500 kilometres (248-310 miles), according to the startup's website, these satellites would each bear a collapsible sail that is capable of reflecting the light of the Sun to form a single pixel.
     Because it would be dependent on the Sun, it would only be able to display at dawn and dusk.
     All up, the "billboard" would have an area of 50 square kilometres (19 square miles). This Orbital Display, as it is being called, could then be programmed to display logos to people around the globe, for 6-minute intervals, around 3 or 4 times a day - theoretically, at least.
     "We are ruled by brands and events," project leader Vlad Sitnikov told Futurism.
     "The Super Bowl, Coca Cola, Brexit, the Olympics, Mercedes, FIFA, Supreme and the Mexican wall. The economy is the blood system of society. Entertainment and advertising are at its heart.
     "We will live in space, and humankind will start delivering its culture to space. The more professional and experienced pioneers will make it better for everyone."
     But, as the response indicates, "better" is a matter of opinion, mainly because of the light pollution the Orbital Display would generate.
     "It's a threat to the ability to do astronomical research from the ground," astronomer John Barentine of the International Dark Sky Association told "Every one of those moving blips of light in the night sky is something that can interfere with our ability to collect photons from astronomical sources."
     In the short term, the system would increase the number of satellites in space, which in turn increases the risk of collision.
     But it is worth noting that, while space junk is a pretty big problem, the Orbital Display wouldn't add to it long-term. At the chosen altitude, the satellites' orbit would decay in a year or so, hopefully burning up harmlessly on reentry as they returned to Earth.
     But the light pollution issue isn't a small one. And we're not sure Sitnokov's suggestion to "do peeing or making your coffee" while the display is on is the most helpful one, given how time-sensitive astronomical observations can be.
For no reason at all, here's what it looks like when a satellite goes through Hubble's field of view whilst you are trying to image something in the distant solar system.
— Alex Parker
     The company isn't the only one trying to send wacky things into low-Earth orbit. Take China's weird artificial Moon to serve as a replacement for streetlights, one of the strangest energy-saving measures we think we've ever heard.
     Or a Japanese proposal to launch satellites that will rain down artificial meteor showers, so you don't have to sit around waiting for a real one.
     Nevertheless, none have been solidified at this stage - not these other proposals, nor the Orbital Display.
     The system has yet to be tested (the startup has plans to do so as early as this year), has yet to be funded, and has yet to be approved according to local and international laws and regulations.
     The team says that they have managed to overcome the technical challenges associated with flying an array of satellites in formation, and the drag introduced by the sails; however, that remains to be seen.
     As to whether it can meet space regulations - well, those are significantly outdated, so there's a good chance that it could.
     Let's keep our fingers crossed that the company is vastly exaggerating its technical prowess.


      Captain Yvette Richards ran her fingers through the bristles of her crew cut, and craned forward to look at the spectrascope of the sun they were approaching. It was perfect. She let out a Texan yelp.
     'We got it!'
     Flight Co-ordinator Elaine Schuman leaned over her shoulder and peered at the console. 'It's a supergiant?'
     'You betcha!' said Richards, and yelped again.
     'Time to celebrate,' said Schuman.
     Kryten, the service mechanoid, handed round styrofoam cups of dehydrated champagne, and topped them up with water.
     The eight-woman, two-man crew yelped and cheered and partied, while Kryten handed round more champagne and irradiated caviare nibblets, which he'd been saving specially.
     It had taken the crew of Nova 5 six months to find a blue supergiant — a star teetering on the edge of its final phase in the right quadrant of the right galaxy. Another month, and they would have ruined the whole campaign. They certainly felt they had good reason to celebrate.

     Sipping her champagne Kirsty Fantozi, the star demolition engineer, started programming the nebulon missile. It had to explode at just the right moment to trigger off the reaction in the star's core which would push it into supernova stage. A star in supernova would light up the entire galaxy for over a month, giving off more energy than the Earth's sun could in ten billion years. It would be a hell of a bang.
     One undetected bug in Fantozi's programming could ruin everything. Not only did she have to push the star into supernova, she had to time it so the light from the explosion would reach Earth at exactly the right moment. The right moment was the same moment as the light from the other one hundred and twenty-seven supergiants, which were also being induced into supernovae, reached Earth.

     For anyone living on Earth the result would be mindfizzlingly spectacular. One hundred and twenty-eight stars would appear to go supernova simultaneously, burning with such ferocity they would be visible even in daylight.
     And the hundred and twenty-eight supernovae would spell out a message.
     And this would be the message:


     For five whole weeks, wherever you were on Earth, the huge tattoo would be branded across the day and night skies.
     Honeymooners in Hawaii would stand on the peak of Mauna Kea, gazing at sunsets stamped with the slogan. Commuters in London, stuck in traffic jams, would peer through the grey drizzle and gape at the Cola constellation. The few primitive tribes still untouched by civilisation in the jungles of South America would look up at the heavens, and certainly not think about drinking Pepsi.

     The cost of this single, three-word ad in star writing across the universe would amount to the entire military budget of the U S A for the whole of history.
     So, ridiculous though it was, it was still a marginally more sensible way of blowing trillions of dollarpounds.
     And, the Coke executives were assured by the advertising executives at Saachi, Saachi, Saachi, Saachi, Saachi and Saachi, it would put an end to the Cola war forever. Guaranteed. Pepsi would be buried

     OK, it wasn't wonderful, ecologically speaking. OK, it involved the destruction of a hundred and twenty-eight stars, which otherwise would have lasted another twenty-five million years or so. OK, when the stars exploded they would gobble up three or four planets in each of their solar systems And, OK, the resulting radiation would last long past the lifetime of our own planet.
     But it sure as hell would sell a lot of cans of a certain fizzy drink

     Fantozi finished the program and fired the nebulon missile off into the heart of the star. She finished her styrofoam cup of champagne and flicked on her intercom.
     'Let's turn this son-of-a-goit around and go home.'
     The nose cone of Nova 5 slowly swung around to begin the jag back to Earth.


(ed note: on the first manned expedition to Luna, the astronaut prepare to conduct a scientific experiment)

      It was quite a surprise to discover, when I looked it up, that the most famous experiment we carried out while we were on the moon had its beginnings way back in 1955. At that time, high-altitude rocket research had been going for only about ten years, mostly at White Sands, New Mexico. Nineteen fifty-five was the date of one of the most spectacular of those early experiments, one that involved the ejection of sodium onto the upper atmosphere.
     On Earth, even on the clearest night, the sky between the stars isn’t completely dark. There’s a very faint background glow, and part of it is caused by the fluorescence of sodium atoms a hundred miles up. Since it would take the sodium in a good many cubic miles of the upper atmosphere to fill a single matchbox, it seemed to the early investigators that they could make quite a fireworks display if they used a rocket to dump a few pounds of the stuff into the ionosphere.
     They were right. The sodium squirted out of a rocket above White Sands early in 1955 produced a great yellow glow in the sky which was visible, like a kind of artificial moonlight, for over an hour, before the atoms dispersed. This experiment wasn’t done for fun (though it was fun) but for a serious scientific purpose. Instruments trained on this glow were able to gather new knowledge about the upper air—knowledge that went into the stockpile of information without which space flight would never have been possible.

     When they got to the moon, the Americans decided that it would be a good idea to repeat the experiment there, on a much larger scale. A few hundred kilograms of sodium fired up from the surface would produce a display that would be visible from Earth, with a good pair of field glasses, as it fluoresced its way up through the lunar atmosphere.
     Everyone had been talking about the experiment for days. The sodium bomb had arrived from Earth in the last supply rocket, and a very impressive piece of equipment it looked. Its operation was extremely simple; when ignited, an incendiary charge vaporised the sodium until a high pressure was built up, then a diaphragm burst and the stuff was squirted up into the sky through a specially shaped nozzle. It would be shot off soon after nightfall, and when the cloud of sodium rose out of the moon’s shadow into direct sunlight it would start to glow with tremendous brilliance.

     Dave had finished a brief and lucid explanation of the purpose of the experiment, describing how the cloud of glowing sodium would enable us to analyse the lunar atmosphere as it rose through it at approximately a thousand miles an hour. ‘However,’ he went on tell the waiting millions on Earth, ‘let’s make one point clear. Even when the bomb has gone off, you won’t see a darn thing for ten minutes—and neither will we. The sodium cloud will be completely invisible while it’s rising up through the darkness of the moon’s shadows. Then, quite suddenly, it will flash into brilliance as it enters the sun’s rays, which are streaming past over our heads right now as we stare up into space. No one is quite sure how bright it will be, but it’s a pretty safe guess that you’ll be able to see it in any telescope bigger than a two-inch. So it should just be within the range of a good pair of binoculars.’
     Then the great moment came, and Anderson closed the firing circuit. The bomb started to cook, building up pressure inside as the sodium volatilised. After thirty seconds, there was a sudden puff of smoke from the long, slender nozzle pointing up at the sky. And then we had to wait for another ten minutes while the invisible cloud rose to the stars. After all this build-up, I told myself, the result had better be good.

     The seconds and minutes ebbed away. Then a sudden yellow glow began to spread across the sky, like a vast and unwavering aurora that became brighter even as we watched. It was as if an artist was sprawling strokes across the stars with a flame-filled brush. And as I stared at those strokes, I suddenly realised that someone had brought off the greatest advertising coup in history. For the strokes formed letters, and the letters formed two words—the name of a certain soft drink too well known to need any further publicity from me.

     How had it been done? The first answer was obvious. Someone had placed a suitably cut stencil in the nozzle of the sodium bomb, so that the stream of escaping vapour had shaped itself to the words. Since there was nothing to distort it, the pattern had kept its shape during its invisible ascent to the stars. I had been skywriting on Earth, but this was something on a far larger scale. Whatever I thought of them, I couldn’t help admiring the ingenuity of the men who had perpetrated the scheme. The O’s and A’s had given them a bit of trouble, but the C’s and L’s were perfect.
     After the initial shock, I am glad to say that the scientific programme proceeded as planned. I wish I could remember how Dave Bolton rose to the occasion in his commentary; it must have been a strain even for his quick wits. By this time, of course, half the Earth could see what he was describing. The next morning, every newspaper on the planet carried that famous photo of the crescent moon with the luminous slogan painted across its darkened sector.
     The letters were visible, before they finally dispersed into space, for over an hour. By that time the words were almost a thousand miles long, and were beginning to get blurred. But they were still readable until they at last faded from sight in the ultimate vacuum between the planets.

     Then the real fireworks began. Commander Vandenburg was absolutely furious, and promptly started to grill all his men. However, it was soon clear that the saboteur—if you could call him that—had been back on Earth. The bomb had been prepared there and shipped ready for immediate use. It did not take long to find, and fire, the engineer who had carried out the substitution. He couldn’t have cared less, since his financial needs had been taken care of for a good many years to come.

From WATCH THIS SPACE by Arthur C. Clarke (1956)

      The simulacron, with a majestic golden beard and deep brown, wide-set eyes said gently, "We understand your hesitations and suspicions, and we can only continue to assure you we mean you no harm. We have, I think, presented you with proof that we inhabit the coronal haloes of O-spectra stars; that your own Sun is too weak for us, and your planets, being of solid matter, are completely and eternally alien to us."
     The Terrestrial spokesman (who was Secretary of Science and, by common consent, had been placed in charge of negotiations with the aliens) said, "But you have admitted we are now on one of your chief trade routes."
     "Now that our new world of Kimmonoshek has developed fields of protonic fluid, yes."
     The Secretary said, "Well, here on Earth, positions on trade routes can gain military importance out of proportion to their intrinsic value. I can only repeat then, that to gain our confidence you must tell us exactly why you need Jupiter."
     And as always, when that question or a form of it was asked, the simulacron looked pained. "Secrecy is important. If the Lamberj people—"

     The Secretary of Science emerged, mopping his forehead and looking ten years younger. He said, softly, "I told him his people could have it as soon as I obtained the President's formal approval. And I don't think the President will object, or Congress, either. Good Lord, gentlemen, think of it; free power at our fingertips in return for a planet we could never use in any case."
     The Secretary of Defense growled, "I don't like it. No matter what their story is, only a Mizzarett-Lamberj war can really explain their need for Jupiter. Under those circumstances, and comparing their military potential with ours, a strict neutrality is essential."
     "But there is no war, sir," said the Secretary of Science. "The simulacron presented an alternate explanation of their need for Jupiter so rational and plausible that I accepted it at once. I think the President will agree with me, and you gentlemen, too, when you understand. In fact, I have here their plans for the new Jupiter, as it will soon appear."
     The others rose from their seats, clamoring. "A new Jupiter?" gasped the Secretary of Defense.
     "Not so different from the old, gentlemen," said the Secretary of Science. "Here are the sketches which they have provided in form suitable for observation by matter beings such as ourselves."

     He laid them down. The familiar banded planet was there before them on one of the sketches: yellow, pale green and light brown with curled white streaks here and there and all against the speckled velvet background of space. But across the bands were curious streaks of blackness, as velvet as the background and arranged in an unusual pattern.
     "That," said the Secretary of Science, "is what they plan for the day side of the planet. The night side is shown in this sketch." (There, Jupiter was a thin crescent enclosing darkness, and within that darkness were the same thin streaks arranged in similar pattern, but in a phosphorescent glowing orange this time.)
     "The marks," said the Secretary of Science, "are a purely optical phenomenon, I am told, which will not rotate with the planet, but will remain static in its atmospheric fringe."

     "But what is it?" asked the Secretary of Commerce.
     "You see," said the Secretary of Science. "Our Solar System is now on one of their major trade routes. As many as seven of their ships pass within a few hundred million miles of the System in a single day, and each ship has the major planets under telescopic observation as they pass. Tourist curiosity, you know. Solid planets of any size are a marvel to them."
     "What has that to do with it?"
     "This is one form of their writing. Translated, those marks read: USE MIZZARETT ERGONE VERTICES FOR HEALTH AND GLOWING HEAT."
     "You mean—you mean Jupiter is to be an advertising billboard?" exploded the Secretary of Defense.

     "Right. The Lamberj people, it seems, produce a competing ergone tablet, which accounts for the Mizzarett anxiety to establish full legal ownership of Jupiter. In case of Lamberj lawsuits… And, gentlemen, I am happy to say that the Mizzaretts appear to be novices at the advertising game."
     "Why do you say that?" asked the Secretary of the Interior.
     "Why, they neglected to set up a series of options on the other planets. The Jupiter billboard will be advertising our system, as well as their own product. And when the competing Lamberj people come storming in to cheek on the Mizzarett title to Jupiter, we will have Saturn to sell to them. With its rings. As we will easily be able to explain to them, the rings will make Saturn much the belter spectacle."
     "And therefore," said the Secretary of the Treasury, suddenly beaming, "worth a much better price."
     And they all looked very cheerful.

From BUY JUPITER by Isaac Asimov (1958)

      He got in. The door jammed itself gently shut. The runabout—a Dillingham eleven-forty—shot smoothly forward upon its two fat, soft tires. Half-way to the exit archway he was doing forty; he hit the steeply-banked curve leading into the lofty “street” at ninety.
     Nor was there shock or strain. Motorcycle-wise, but automatically, the “Dilly” leaned against its gyroscopes at precisely the correct angle; the huge low-pressure tires clung to the resilient synthetic of the pavement as though integral with it. Nor was there any question of conflicting traffic, for this thoroughfare, six full levels above Varick Street proper, was not, strictly speaking, a street at all. It had only one point of access, the one which Samms had used; and only one exit—it was simply and only a feeder into Wright Skyway, a limited-access superhighway.
     Samms saw, without noting particularly, the maze of traffic-ways of which this feeder was only one tiny part; a maze which extended from ground-level up to a point well above even the towering buildings of New York’s metropolitan district.
     The way rose sharply; Samms’ right foot went down a little farther; the Dillingham began to pick up speed. Moving loud-speakers sang to him and yelled and blared at him, but he did not hear them. Brilliant signs, flashing and flaring all the colors of the spectrum—sheer triumphs of the electrician’s art—blazed in or flamed into arresting words and eye-catching pictures, but he did not see them. Advertising—advertising designed by experts to sell everything from aardvarks to Martian zyzmol (“bottled ecstacy”)—but the First Lensman was a seasoned big-city dweller. His mind had long since become a perfect filter, admitting to his consciousness only things which he wanted to perceive: only so can big-city life be made endurable.
     Approaching the Skyway, he cut in his touring roadlights, slowed down a trifle, and insinuated his low-flyer into the stream of traffic. Those lights threw fifteen hundred watts apiece, but there was no glare—polarized lenses and windshields saw to that.
     He wormed his way over to the left-hand, high-speed lane and opened up. At the edge of the skyscraper district, where Wright Skyway angles sharply downward to ground level, Samms’ attention was caught and held by something off to his right—a blue-white, whistling something that hurtled upward into the air. As it ascended it slowed down; its monotone shriek became lower and lower in pitch; its light went down through the spectrum toward the red. Finally it exploded, with an earth-shaking crash; but the lightning-like flash of the detonation, instead of vanishing almost instantaneously, settled itself upon a low-hanging artificial cloud and became a picture and four words—two bearded faces and “SMITH BROS. COUGH DROPS”! “Well, I’ll be damned!” Samms spoke aloud chagrined at having been compelled to listen to and to look at an advertisement. “I thought I had seen everything, but that is really new!”

(ed note: Virgil Samms wants to make contact with an alien race that lives on a planet in the Rigel star system. Previous attempts were failures, because the Rigellians are just too alien. For starters, they have no spoken language since they have no sense of hearing. Instead they use telepathy. Which is a sense that humans lack.

Lucky for Virgil, he has been judged worthy by the weakly godlike entities called the Arisians. Virgil has been give a Lens, which among other things is a universal translator and telepathic device. He makes contact, and is taken in a Rigillian ground car to go to a meeting.)

     Samms admitted, wearily “Here, too, apparently, as everywhere, the big cities are choking themselves to death with their own traffic.”
     “Yes. We build and build, but never have roads enough.”
     “What are those mounds along the streets?” For some time Samms had been conscious of those long, low, apparently opaque structures; attracted to them because they were the only non-transparent objects within range of the Rigellian’s mind. “Or is it something I should not mention?”
     “What? Oh, those? By no means.”
     One of the near-by mounds lost its opacity. It was filled with swirling, gyrating bands and streamers of energy so vivid and so solid as to resemble fabric; with wildly hurtling objects of indescribable shapes and contours; with brilliantly flashing symbols which Samms found, greatly to his surprise, made sense—not through the Rigellian’s mind, but through his own Lens:


     “Advertising!” Samms’ thought was a snort.
     “Advertising. You do not perceive yours, either, as you drive?” This was the first bond to be established between two of the most highly advanced races of the First Galaxy!

From FIRST LENSMAN by E. E. "Doc" Smith (1950)

(ed note: our heroes meet a woman named Fee-5 Grauman's Chinese)

      “What kind of name is Fee?” he asked me. “Short for Fee-Fie-Fo-Fum?”
     “Short for Fee-mally.”
     “Short for female,” Fee corrected with great dignity.
     The Chief shook his head. “I think I’d better go back to JPL. At least the machines make sense there.”
     “No, no. It makes sense. When she was born—”
     “In the orchestra of Grauman’s.” Very proud.
     “Her dumb mother couldn’t think of a name, so the demographer listed her as Female. The mother liked it and called her Fee-mally. She calls herself Fee-5.”
     “Why the five?”
     “Because,” Fee explained patiently, “I was born in the fifth row. Any fool would understand that, but against stupidity the very gods themselves contend in vain. Gas!”

(ed note: a holographic advertisement intrudes)

     A capsule floated down on top of the bods with its jets spraying fireworks. A blue-eyed blond astronaut stepped out and came up to us. “Duh,” he mumbled in Kallikak. “Duh-duh-duh-duh…”
     “What’s this thing selling?” Uncas asked.
     “Duh,” Fee told him. “That’s about all the honks can say, so they named the product after it. I think it’s a penis amplifier.”

From THE COMPUTER CONNECTION by Alfred Bester (1975)

Steven Spielberg’s “Minority Report” is a favorite in the online advertising world. The 2002 movie, loosely based on a Philip K. Dick short story, is cited at industry conferences the world over as an example of what’s now possible thanks to the collision of tech and media. It’s also how many in the industry describe what they do for a living at Thanksgiving dinners and to their in-laws, we suspect.

“The reality is these technologies are not coming in 2054; the technologies are here now,” said Whaleshark Media’s John Faith onstage at a conference last year, while he clicked his way through a PowerPoint deck of screen grabs from the movie as innumerable ad execs had done before him.

Ad technology has come a long way in the past few years, particularly online. But we examined the movie to decide for ourselves just how many of its predictions are a reality today.

Ad targeting

The “Minority Report” scene that has the ad world salivating most is the one in which the main character John Anderton (Tom Cruise) strolls through a mall and gets bombarded with ads that mention him by name, implying they’ve been targeted specifically to him.

Anderton is shown ads for Lexus and Guinness, presumably because he has signaled interest in buying those brands or because he is male and has an expensive jacket — that much isn’t explained. Anderton is then shown an American Express ad that recognizes the fact that he is an existing member, simply by scanning his eyes as he walks past.

In the online world, this type of targeting is now commonplace. Advertisers use all sorts of data to target their messages to specific types of users, including financial and demographic information, context and location, and users’ previous behaviors. The difference is online ad companies usually recognize potential targets using their cookies, not their actual eyeballs.

When it comes to offline advertising, it’s a different story, however. Data might be helping advertisers place their out-of-home ads in slightly more appropriate places, but they’re not targeted to specific people. Try standing in Times Square and counting the ads and brands you see that have no relevance to you whatsoever.

Dynamic ad creative

The idea of dynamic creative is closely tied to targeting. If you’re targeting a person based on their individual tastes and preferences, why not show them an ad that appeals to those specific attributes, too?

Ads in “Minority Report” appear to do just that. “The road you’re on, John Anderton, is the one less traveled,” a Lexus billboard whispers at him as he passes. It’s unclear if the visual element of the ads is supposedly dynamic, or just the audio. Either way, the ads are literally speaking specifically to him.

The online ad industry has figured this one out, too. Ads might not address you by name, but the creative is often tailored to specific users based on their tastes, behaviors and demographic information. It’s no accident the pair of shoes you considered purchasing end up chasing you around the Internet for weeks, and not just an ad for the site you viewed them on.

Once again, things are somewhat different in the offline world as they stand today. Out-of-home ad creative is forced to be generic because there’s no way to switch it out for specific consumers, or even on specific days. That’s beginning to change, however. One recent campaign by Mini used digital billboards to target Mini drivers with personalized messages, for example. The catch? Those messages were written by humans who relied on other humans to tell them when a Mini was approaching. Not very high-tech, and not very scalable.

In-store CRM:

At one point in the movie Anderton visits the Gap, which recognizes consumers as they enter the store and asks if they enjoyed their prior purchases.

This type of technology has been commonplace for online retailers for years. Amazon, for example, goes to great lengths to customize the products you see based on your previous purchases and items you’ve demonstrated an interest in. Brands regularly email customers to ask if they are happy with their purchases.

That rarely happens in the physical world. When customers walk into a Gap store today, the company has no idea who they are or what they may be likely to buy. This, too, is beginning to change. Tech vendors like Shopkick are experimenting with ways to recognize customers using their smartphones and to automatically send them personalized discounts, recommendations and rewards as they enter or walk past a store. Other location-based apps like Foursquare have been offering location-based deals for years.

Facial recognition

Throughout the movie, consumers are recognized by their eyes. Scanners on digital billboards and within stores scan users’ retinas and show them personalized content as a result.

Luckily, this isn’t happening today. Younger generations might be more laid back about privacy than their predecessors, but that doesn’t mean they want their identities tracked as they wander around the mall.

That said, some companies are already experimenting with facial recognition technology in the real world and using it to tailor ad messages based on gender and age information. U.K. retailer Tesco, for example, is using it to help serve relevant ads to consumers while they wait in line to pay.

Stratified Cities

It does seem like a truism that the rich get richer while the poor get poorer, and the middle class vanishes. Since science fiction can turn the volume up to 11, it can play with Extreme Speculative Stratification

Since the wealthy enjoy looking down upon the peons, they often try to make the process easier by living at a higher altitude. Some readers might remember the British comedy show Upstairs, Downstairs. Turn this up to 11 and soon all the aristocrats are living at the top of skyscrapers. The peasants live on the ground in wretched hives. The skyscrapers are cross-connected with elevated walk-ways and flying cars, so the rich do not have to descend into the slums in order to visit an adjacent building. Often the tops of the skyscrapers are Arcologies.

This is the sci-fi version of "the wrong side of the tracks." Only the separation is vertical, instead of horizontal.

Compare and contrast this with domed cities.

In the classic nove The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, the decadent Eloi live in beautiful gardens while all their food and other needs are supplied by troglodyte Morlocks who labor underground and hate the sunlight. But in a bit of ironic justice, the Morlocks eat the Eloi for food.

In the classic movie Metropolis, the rich live in skyscrapers which depend upon subterranean laborers being worked until they drop.

In the comic book Magnus Robot Fighter, ordinary citizens live in kilometer-high skyscrapers, while the malcontents who despise civilized life live in the shadowy valleys at the base of the buildings. Malcontents call the citizens "Cloud Cloddies", while the citizens call the malcontents "Gophs", short for gophers.

In Isaac Asimov's The Currents Of Space, all the cities have two levels. The upper level is for the Sarkite masters and bottom level for Florinian serfs. The Florinians have to make do with the little bits of sunlight that come through the limited gaps in the Sarkite's floor. All the rest in in shadow.

Heck, there are even hobos living on the ground in The Jetsons while everybody else lives in buildings on stilts.

In the extreme case, the rich live in a floating city flying in the sky.

In the Star Trek episode "The Cloud Minders", the privileged Ardanans live luxuriously in the antigravity city of Stratos flying in the sky, while the miserable Troglytes are forced to labor in the mineral mines underground.

In the Firefly episode Trash the antigravity Bellerophon Floating Estates are home to the rich and paranoid. Since they are flying over a remote spot in mid-ocean, it is almost impossible for the riffraff to get to the rich. Even if they could somehow sail a boat to the site, then there is the minor problem of getting from sea level to an estate floating a couple of hundred meters in the air. This is an extreme example of a gated community.

Even in 1726 the city of Laputa was obnoxiously flying over the poor folk in Gulliver's Travels.

In the movie Elysium, the rich live in a posh space habitat in low orbit, all the better to snicker at an entire planet that has degraded into Detroit.

This is inverted in James Blish's CITIES IN FLIGHT series. The antigravity "Okie" cities travel from star to star and visit planetary colonies, and are thus technically of higher altitude than the colonies. However, the colonists consider the Okies to be little better than tramps, hobos, and migrant labor. The Okies earn their living by being hired by the colonists. The motto of the flying city of New York, New York is: "MOW YOUR LAWN, LADY?"

"There ain't a side of the tracks more wrong than 'under' 'em."
Augustus Sinclair, BioShock 2

The extreme Lampshading of the Skyscraper City, making it even more enormous and overbuilt. A Skyscraper City is when the city seems to consist entirely of skyscrapers that rival the construction of Dubai (and then some) but the Layered Metropolis is when the city planners went even further by adding more streets, and even buildings, very far (or sometimes not that far) above the city. This tends to go hand in hand with Under City or Absurdly Spacious Sewer, for some reason. Probably the aesthetic.

Maybe they realized how inconvenient it might be to take an elevator down a hundred stories or so, cross the street, then go back up the other building's elevator. Or they might have been worried about wiring, plumbing, or public transportation. Exactly how people take the car to these levels or get plumbing that high up will almost never be addressed, and similar questions as those raised by the Skyscraper City are also rarely addressed-such as the population needed, the construction methods, or how any of this is structurally sound.

Predictably, there will be Urban Segregation where the rich will always be a majority on the top, and the lower classes will have the bottom. Which presents an intriguing dichotomy as one neighbourhood becomes slowly and literally overshadowed by another level, and thus more unfashionable. Similarly to the Skyscraper City, if the issue of population is brought up, it will usually be in a dystopian setting where overpopulation plagues the planet or at least big cities.

It is also a sub-trope of Skyscraper City, making it a sub-subtrope to Mega City. It fits very well in Cyber Punk settings. Compare City Planet (which lends itself more to this than the Skyscraper City), Star Scraper, and Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale. Has surprisingly little to do with Layered World.

The arcology is an idea for applying this concept in real life. Now with its own page!

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


On Florina, all other cities had names, but this one was simply the “City.” The workers and peasants who lived in it and around it were considered lucky by the rest of the planet. In the City there were better doctors and hospitals, more factories and more liquor stores, even a few dribbles of very mild luxury. The inhabitants themselves were somewhat less enthusiastic. They lived in the shadow of the Upper City.

The Upper City was exactly what the name implied, for the City was double, divided rigidly by a horizontal layer of fifty square miles of cementalloy resting upon some twenty thousand steel-girdered pillars. Below in the shadow were the “natives.” Above, in the sun, were the Squires. It was difficult to believe in the Upper City that the planet of its location was Florina. The population was almost exclusively Sarkite in nature, together with a sprinkling of patrollers. They were the upper class in all literalness.

Terens knew his way. He walked quickly, avoiding the stares of passers-by, who surveyed his Townman clothing with a mixture of envy and resentment. Rik’s shorter legs made his gait less dignified as he tried to keep up. He did not remember very much from his only other visit to the City. It seemed so different now. Then it had been cloudy. Now the sun was out, pouring through the spaced openings in the cementalloy above to form strips of light that made the intervening space all the darker. They plunged through the bright strips in a rhythmic, almost hypnotic fashion.

Oldsters sat on wheeled chairs in the strips, absorbing the warmth and moving as the strip moved. Sometimes they fell asleep and would remain behind in the shade, nodding in their chairs until the squeaking of the wheels when they shifted position woke them. Occasionally mothers nearly blocked the strips with their carriaged offspring.

Terens said, “Now, Rik, stand up straight. We’re going up.” He was standing before a structure that filled the space between four square-placed pillars, and from ground to Upper City.

Rik could guess what the structure was. It was an elevator that lifted to the upper level.

These were necessary, of course. Production was below, but consumption was above. Basic chemicals and raw food staples were shipped into Lower City, but finished plastic ware and fine meals were matters for Upper City. Excess population spawned below; maids, gardeners, chauffeurs, construction laborers were used above.

From THE CURRENTS OF SPACE by Isaac Asimov (1952)

(ed note: On the planet Yellowstone, the newer buildings incorporate nanotechnology for self-repair and alterations. Unfortunately the alien Melting Plague struck. It subverts the nanotechnology causing the buildings to change in grotesque ways.)

Sometimes, in her early days on Yellowstone. Khouri had asked a few of the locals why anyone had ever bothered settling the planet in the first place if it was so inhospitable. Sky's Edge might have its wars, but at least you could live there without domes and atmosphere-cracking systems. She had quickly learned not to expect anything resembling a consistent answer, if the question itself was not deemed an outsider's impudence. Evidently, though, this much was clear: the chasm had drawn the first explorers and around them had accreted a permanent outpost, and then something like a frontier town. Lunatics, chancers and wild-eyed visionaries had come, driven by vague rumours of riches deep within the chasm. Some had gone home disillusioned. Some had died in the chasm's hot. toxic depths. But a few had elected to stay because something about the nascent city's perilous location actually appealed to them. Fast forward two hundred years and that huddle of structures had become … this.

The city stretched away infinitely in all directions, it seemed, a dense wood of gnarled interlaced buildings gradually lost in murk. The very oldest structures were still more or less intact: boxlike-buildings which had retained their shapes during the plague because they had never contained any systems of self-repair or redesign. The modern structures, by contrast, now resembled odd, up-ended pieces of driftwood or wizened old trees in the last stages of rot. Once those skyscrapers had looked linear and symmetrical, until the plague made them grow madly, sprouting bulbous protrusions and tangled, leprous appendages. The buildings were all dead now, frozen into the shapes which seemed calculated to induce disquiet. Slums adhered to their sides, lower levels lost in a scaffolded maze of shanty towns and ramshackle bazaars, aglow with naked fires. Tiny figures were moving in the slums, walking or rickshawing to business along haphazard roadways laid down over old ruins. There were very few powered vehicles, and most of the contraptions Khouri saw looked like they were steam-driven.

The slums never reached more than ten levels up the sides of the buildings before collapsing under their own weight, so for two or three hundred further metres the buildings rose smoothly, relatively unscathed by plague transformations. There was no evidence of occupation in these mid-city levels. It was only near the very tops that human presence again re-asserted itself: tiered structures perched like cranes' nests among the branches of the malformed buildings. These new additions were aglow with conspicuous wealth and power: bright apartment windows and neon advertisements. Searchlights swept down from the eaves, sometimes picking out the tiny forms of other cable-cars, navigating between districts. The cable-cars picked their way through a network of fine branches, lacing the buildings like synaptic threads. The locals had a name for this high-level city-within-a-city: the Canopy.

From REVELATION SPACE by Alastair Reynolds (2000)

In any case the final architectural effect (of the city of Minas Troney) was that of an Italian wedding cake.*

* The historian Bocaraton notes that this may have been intentionally "emblematic of all the crumbs inside."

From BORED OF THE RINGS by the Harvard Lampoon ()

The Death of Cities

Yes, as of this writing people who live in rural areas are quite upset that all the good-paying jobs appear to be in urban areas so there is an exodus toward the cities.

But in the future, things may reverse themselves, sort of.

Arthur C. Clarke pointed out that there is sort of an inverse relationship between communication and transportation. What he means is the more advanced one becomes, the less you need the other. If communication develops virtual reality to the point where businesses can conduct meetings with members who physically are located all over the globe and you can't tell the difference, why go to the expense and inconvenience of traveling physically to a meeting? Already many corporations are experimenting with telecommuting.

By the same token, if transportation develops a teleportation device that can whisk you from Hong Kong to New York in a fraction of a second, who needs teleconferences? In other words: in many ways communication and transportation are two different techniques dealing with the same problem.

With respect to cities, the point is that if either technology becomes advanced enough, who needs cities?


Even from the air, the city looked deserted. But only two and a half hours were left—there was no time for further exploration. Orostron made his decision, and landed near the largest structure he could see. It seemed reasonable to suppose that some creatures would have sought shelter in the strongest buildings, where they would be safe until the very end.

The deepest caves—the heart of the planet itself—would give no protection when the final cataclysm came. Even if this race had reached the outer planets, its doom would only be delayed by the few hours it would take for the ravening wavefronts to cross the Solar System.

Orostron could not know that the city had been deserted not for a few days or weeks, but for over a century. For the culture of cities, which had outlasted so many civilisations had been doomed at last when the helicopter brought universal transportation. Within a few generations the great masses of mankind, knowing that they could reach any part of the globe in a matter of hours, had gone back to the fields and forests for which they had always longed. The new civilisation had machines and resources of which earlier ages had never dreamed, but it was essentially rural and no longer bound to the steel and concrete warrens that had dominated the centuries before. Such cities as still remained were specialised centres of research, administration or entertainment; the others had been allowed to decay, where it was too much trouble to destroy them. The dozen or so greatest of all cities, and the ancient university towns, had scarcely changed and would have lasted for many generations to come. But the cities that had been founded on steam and iron and surface transportation had passed with the industries that had nourished them.

From RESCUE PARTY by Arthur C. Clarke (1946)

      He hobbled over and sat down beside Gramp on the bench.
     "We're leaving," he said.
     Gramp whirled on him. "You're leaving!"
     "Yeah. Moving out into the country. Lucinda finally talked Herb into it. Never gave him a minute's peace, I guess. Said everyone was moving away to one of them nice country estates and she didn't see no reason why we couldn't."
     Gramp gulped. "Where to?"
     "Don't rightly know," said Mark. "Ain't been there myself. Up north some place. Up on one of the lakes. Got ten acres of land. Lucinda wanted a hundred, but Herb put down his foot and said ten was enough. After all, one city lot was enough for all these years."
     "Betty was pestering Johnny, too," said Gramp, "but he's holding out against her. Says he simply can't do it. Says it wouldn't look right, him the secretary of the Chamber of Commerce and all, if he went moving away from the city."
     "Folks are crazy," Mark declared. "Plumb crazy."

     The years had moved too fast. Years that had brought the family plane and helicopter, leaving the auto to rust in some forgotten place, the unused roads to fall into disrepair. Years that had virtually wiped out the tilling of the soil with the rise of hydroponics. Years that had brought cheap land with the disappearance of the farm as an economic unit had sent city people scurrying out into the country where each man, for less than the price of a city lot, might own broad acres. Years that had revolutionized the construction of homes to a point where families simply walked away from their old homes to the new ones that could be bought, custom-made, for less than half the price of a prewar structure and could be changed at small cost, to accommodate need of additional space or just a passing whim.

     Gramp sniffed. Houses that could be changed each year, just like one would shift around the furniture. What kind of living was that?
     He plodded slowly down the dusty path that was all that remained of what a few years before had been a busy residential street. A street of ghosts, Gramp told himself- of furtive, little ghosts that whispered in the night. Ghosts of playing children, ghosts of upset tricycles and canted coaster wagons. Ghosts of gossiping housewives. Ghosts of shouted greetings. Ghosts of flaming fireplaces and chimneys smoking of a winter night.

     "I have something to say," said Webster. "Something that should have been said long ago. Something all of you should hear. That I should be the one who would tell it to you is the one thing that astounds me. And yet, perhaps, as one who has worked in the interests of this city for almost fifteen years, I am the logical one to speak the truth.

     "Alderman Griffin said the city is dying on its feet and his statement is correct. There is but one fault I would find with it and that is its understatement. The city … this city, any city … already is dead.
     "The city is an anachronism. It has outlived its usefulness. Hydroponics and the helicopter spelled its downfall. In the first instance the city was a tribal place, an area where the tribe banded together for mutual protection. In later years a wall was thrown around it for additional protection. Then the wall finally disappeared but the city lived on because of the conveniences, which it offered trade and commerce. It continued into modem times because people were compelled to live close to their jobs and the jobs were in the city.
     "But today that is no longer true. With the family plane, one hundred miles today is a shorter distance than five miles back in 1930. Men can fly several hundred miles to work and fly home when the day is done. There is no longer any need for them to live cooped up in a city.
     "The automobile started the trend and the family plane finished it. Even in the first part of the century the trend was noticeable—a movement away from the city with its taxes and its stuffiness, a move toward the suburb and close-in acreages. Lack of adequate transportation, lack of finances held many to the city. But now, with tank farming destroying the value of land, a man can buy a huge acreage in the country for less than he could a city lot forty years ago. With planes powered by atomics there is no longer any transportation problem."

     He paused and the silence held. The mayor wore a shocked look. King's lips moved, but no words came. Griffin was smiling.

     "So what have we?" asked Webster. "I'll tell you what we have. Street after street, block after block, of deserted houses, houses that the people just up and walked away from. Why should they have stayed? What could the city offer them? None of the things that it offered the generations before them, for progress had wiped out the need of the city's benefits. They lost something, some monetary consideration, of course, when they left the houses. But the fact that they could buy a house twice as good for half as much, the fact that they could live as they wished to live, that they could develop what amounts to family estates after the best tradition set them by the wealthy of a generation ago—all these things outweighed the leaving of their homes.
     "And what have we left? A few blocks of business houses. A few acres of industrial plants. A city government geared to take care of a million people without the million people. A budget that has run the taxes so high that eventually even business houses will move to escape those taxes. Tax forfeitures that have left us loaded with worthless property. That's what we have left.

     "If you think any Chamber of Commerce, any ballyhoo, any hare-brained scheme will give you the answers, you're crazy. There is only one answer and that is simple.
     The city as a human institution is dead. It may struggle on a few more years, but that is all."

From CITY by Clifford Simak (1952)

She was bitterly disappointed to hear that the age of cities had passed. Despite all that Leon could tell her about the completely decentralised culture that now covered the planet from pole to pole, she still thought of Earth in terms of such vanished giants as Chandrigar, London, Astrograd. New York, and it was hard for her to realise that they had gone forever, and with them the way of life they represented.

‘When we left Earth,’ Leon explained, ‘the largest centres of population were university towns like Oxford or Ann Arbor or Canberra; some of them had fifty thousand students and professors. There are no other cities left of even half that size.’

‘But what happened to them?’

‘Oh, there was no single cause, but the development of communications started it. As soon as anyone on Earth could see and talk to anyone else by pressing a button, most of the need for cities vanished. Then anti-gravity was invented, and you could move goods or houses or anything else through the sky without bothering about geography. That completed the job of wiping out distance, which the airplane had begun a couple of centuries earlier. After that, men started to live where they liked, and the cities dwindled away.’

From THE SONGS OF DISTANT EARTH (short-story version) by Arthur C. Clarke (1958)


Museums are repositories of knowledge. Since many science fiction stories hinge on discovering important knowlege, it is not unusual for the author to use the discovery of an ancient museum as a plot short-cut.

Related concepts include Cosmic Library and Time Capsule.


The city was not very large; it was certainly far smaller then London or New York had been at their heyday. According to Vindarten, there were several thousand such cities scattered over the planet, each one designed for some specific purpose. On Earth, the closest parallel to this place would have been a university town—except that the degree of specialization had gone much further. This entire city was devoted, Jan soon discovered, to the study of alien cultures.

In one of their first trips outside the bare cell in which Jan lived, Vindarten had taken him to the museum. It had given Jan a much needed psychological boost to find himself in a place whose purpose he could fully understand. Apart from the scale upon which it was built, this museum might well have been on Earth. They had taken a long time to reach it, falling steadily on a great platform that moved like a piston in a vertical cylinder of unknown length. There were no visible controls, and the sense of acceleration at the beginning and ending of the descent was quite noticeable. Presumably the Overlords did not waste their compensating field devices for domestic uses. Jan wondered if the whole interior of this world was riddled with excavations; and why had they limited the size of the city, going underground instead of outwards? That was just another of the enigmas he never solved.

One could have spent a lifetime exploring these colossal chambers. Here was the loot of planets, the achievements of more civilizations than Jan could guess. But there was no time to see much. Vindarten placed him carefully on a strip of flooring that at first sight seemed an ornamental pattern. Then Jan remembered that there were no ornaments here—and at the same time, something invisible grasped him gently and hurried him forward. He was moving past the great display cases, past vistas of unimaginable worlds, at a speed of twenty or thirty kiometres an hour.

The Overlords had solved the problem of museum fatigue. There was no need for anyone to walk.

They must have travelled several kilometres before Jan's guide grasped him again, and with a surge of his great wings lifted him away from whatever force was propelling them. Before them stretched a huge, half-empty hall, flooded with a familiar light that Jan had not seen since leavng Earth. It was faint, so that it would not pain the sensitive eyes of the Overlords, but it was, unmistakably, sunlight. Jan would never have believed that anything so simple or so commonplace could have evoked such yearning in his heart.

So this was the exhibit for Earth. They walked for a few metres past a beautiful model of Paris, past art-treasures from a dozen centuries grouped incongruously together, past modern calculating machines and paleolithic axes, past television receivers and Hero of Alexandra's steam-turbine. A great doorway opened ahead of them, and they were in the office of the Curator for Earth.

Was he seeing a human being for the first time? Jan wondered. Had he ever been to Earth, or was it just another of the many planets in his charge, of whose exact location he was not precisely sure? Certainly he neither spoke nor understood English, and Vindarten had to act as interpreter.

Jan had spent several hours here, talking into a recording device while the Overlords presented various terrestrial objects to him. Many of these, he discovered to his shame, he could not identify. His ignorance of his own race and its achievements was enormous; he wondered if the Overlords, for all their superb mental gifts, could really grasp the complete pattern of human culture.

Vindarten took him out of the museum by a different route. Once again they floated effortlessly through great vaulted corridors, but this time they were moving past the creations of nature, not of conscious mind. Sullivan, thought Jan, would have given his life to be here, to see what wonders evolution had wrought on a hundred worlds. But Sullivan, he remembered, was probably already dead.

Then, without any warning, they were on a galleiy high above a large circular chamber, perhaps a hundred metres across. As usual, there was no protective parapet, and for a moment Jan hesitated to go near the edge. But Vindarten was standing on the very brink, looking calmly downwards, so Jan moved cautiously forward to join him.

The floor was only twenty metres below—far, far too close. Afterwards, Jan was sure that his guide had not intended to surprise him, and was completely taken aback by his reaction. For he had given one tremendous yell and jumped backwards from the gallery's edge, in an involuntary effort to hide what lay below. It was not until the muffled echoes of his shout had died away in the thick atmosphere that he steeled himself to go forward again.

It was lifeless, of course—not, as he had thought in that first moment of panic, consciously staring up at him. It filled almost all that great circular space, and the ruby light gleamed and shifted in its crystal depths.

It was a single giant eye.

     "Why did you make that noise?" asked Vindarten.
     "I was frightened," Jan confessed sheepishly.
     "But why? Surely you did not imagine that there could be any danger here?"
     Jan wondered if he could explain what a reflex action was, but decided not to attempt it.
     "Anything completely unexpected is frightening. Until a novel situation is analysed, it is safest to assume the worst."

His heart was still pounding violently as he stared down once more at that monstrous eye. Of course, it might have been a model, enormously enlarged as were microbes and insects in terrestrial museums. Yet even as he asked the question, Jan knew, with a sickening certainty, that it was no larger than life.

Vindarten could tell him little; this was not his field of knowledge, and he was not particularly curious. From the Overlord's description, Jan built up a picture of a cyclopean beast living among the asteroidal rubble of some distant sun, its growth uninhibited by gravity, depending for food and life upon the range and resolving power of its single eye.

There seemed no limit to what Nature could do if she was pressed, and Jan felt an irrational pleasure at discovering something which the Overlords would not attempt. They had brought a full-sized whale from Earth—but they had drawn the line at this.

From CHILDHOOD'S END by Arthur C. Clarke (1953)

(ed note: Spoilers for The Mote in God's Eye

The alien Moties have a problem. Suffice to say this biological problem means they inexorably bomb themselves into the stone age every thousand years or so. This has been going on for a bit over a million years.

To jump-start their next climb out of the stone age the Moties maintain "museums" containing technological information. These are armored, and have a lock that can only be opened with fairly advanced astronomical knowledge. This keeps out Moties that are too technologically primitive from entering the museums.)

     It was large. At first there had been nothing to give it scale; now he had been flying toward it for ten minutes or more.
     It was a dome with straight sides blending into a low, rounded roof. There were no windows, and no other features except a rectangular break that might have been a door, ridiculously small in the enormous structure. The gleam of sunlight on the roof was more than metallic; it was mirror-bright. (anti-laser armor)
     Whitbread landed just outside the rectangular doorway. This close the door loomed over him, it had been dwarfed by the building.

     His eyes kept straying to the mirror-surfaced building. Presently he got up to examine the door.
     It was a good ten meters high. Impressively tall to Whitbread, a gigantic thing for a Motie. But were Moties impressed by size? Whitbread thought not. The door must be functional—what was ten meters high? Heavy machinery? There was no sound at all when he put his pickup microphone against the smooth metallic surface.
     At one side of the alcove containing the door was a panel mounted on a stout spring. Behind the panel was what seemed to be a combination lock. And that was that—except that Moties expected each other to solve such puzzles at a glance. A key lock would have been a NO TRESPASSING sign. This was not.
     Probably it was intended to keep out—what? Browns? Whites? Laborers and the nonsentient classes? Probably all of them. A combination lock could be thought of as a form of communication.
     "Um. I wish Dr. Buckman were here. Those are Motie numbers—aye, and the Mote solar system, with the dial where the Mote ought to be, Let me see …"
     Whitbread watched interestedly as Potter stared at the dial. The New Scot pursed his lips, then said, "Aye. The gas giant is three point seven two times as far from the Mote as Mote Prime. Hmmm." He reached into his shirt pocket and took out the ever-present computer box. "Umm … three point eight eight, base twelve. Now which way does the dial go?"
     "Then, again, it might be somebody's birthday," said Whitbread. He was glad to see Gavin Potter. He was glad to see anyone human here. But the New Scot's meddling with the dials was—disturbing. Left, right, left, right, Gavin Potter turned the dials …
     It was an interesting puzzle. "Try left again," Whitbread suggested. "Hold it." Whitbread pushed the symbol representing Mote Prime. It depressed with a click. "Keep going left."
     "Aye. The Motie astronomical maps show the planets going counterclockwise."
     On the third digit the door began to slide upward. "It works!" Whitbread shouted.
     The door slid up to a height of one and a half meters. Potter looked at Whitbread and said, "Now what?"
     "You're kidding."
     "We hae our orders," Potter said slowly. They sat down between the plants and looked at each other. Then looked at the dome. There was light inside, and they could easily see under the door. There were buildings in there …

     Whitbread and Potter stood alone within the dome. They stared in wonder.
The dome was only a shell. A single light source very like an afternoon sun blazed halfway down its slope. Moties used that kind of illumination in many of the buildings Whitbread had seen.
     Underneath the dome it was like a small city—but not quite. Nobody was home. There was no sound, no motion, no light in any of the windows. And the buildings …
     There was no coherency to this city. The buildings jarred horribly against each other. Whitbread winced at two clean-lined many-windowed pillars framing what might have been an oversized medieval cathedral, all gingerbread, a thousand cornices guarded by what Bury's Motie had said were Motie demons.
     Here were a hundred styles of architecture and at least a dozen levels of technology. Those geodesic forms could not have been built without pre-stressed concrete or something more sophisticated, not to mention the engineering mathematics. But this building nearest the gate was of sun-baked mud bricks. Here a rectangular solid had walls of partly silvered glass; there the walls were of gray stone, and the tiny windows had no glass in them, only shutters to seal them from the elements.
     "Rain shutters. It must have been here before the dome," Potter said.
     "Anyone can see that. The dome is almost new. That cathedral … it might be, that cathedral in the center is so old it's about to fall apart."
     "Look there. Yon parabolic-hyperboloid structure has been cantilevered out from a wall. But look at the wall!"
     "Yah, it must have been part of another building. God knows how old that is." The wall was over a meter thick, and ragged around the edges and the top. It was made of dressed stone blocks that must have massed five hundred kilos each. Some vinelike plant had invaded it, surrounded it, permeated it to the extent that by now it must be holding the wall together.
     Whitbread leaned close and peered into the vines. "No cement, Gavin. They've fitted the blocks together. And still it supports the rest of the building—which is concrete. They built to last."
     "Do ye remember what Horst said about the Stone Beehive?"
     "He said he could feel the age in it. Right. Right …"
     "It must be of all different ages, this place. I think we'll find that it's a museum. A museum of architecture? And they've added to it, century after century. Finally they threw up that dome to protect it from the elements."
     "Ye sound dubious."
     "That dome is two meters thick, and metal. What kind of elements …"
     "Asteroid falls, it may be. No, that's nonsense. The asteroids were moved away eons ago." (try nuclear attack)
     "I think I want to have a look at that cathedral. It looks to be the oldest building here."

     The cathedral was a museum right enough. Any civilized man in the Empire would have recognized it. Museums are all alike.
     There were cases faced in glass, and old things within, marked by plaques—with dates and printing on them. "I can read the numbers," said Potter. "Look, they're in four and five figures. And this is base twelve!"
     "My Motie asked me once how old our recorded civilization is. How old is theirs, Gavin?"
     "Well, their year is shorter … Five figures. Dating backward from some event; that's a minus sign in front of each of them. Let me see …" He took out his computer and scrawled quick, precise figures. "That number would be seventy-four thousand and some-odd. Jonathon, the plaques are almost new."
     "Languages change. They must translate the plaques every so often."
     "Yes … yes, I know this sign. 'Approximately.' " Potter moved swiftly from exhibit to exhibit. "Here it is again. Not here … but here. Jonathon, come look at this one."
     It was a, very old machine. Once iron, it must be rust now, all the way through. There was a sketch of what it must have looked like once. A howitzer cannon.
     "Here on the plaque. This double-approximation sign means educated guesswork. I wonder how many times that legend has been translated."
     Room after room. They found a wide staircase leading up, the steps shallow but broad enough for human feet. Above, more rooms, more exhibits. The ceilings were low. The lighting came from lines of bulbs of incandescent filaments that came on when they entered, went out when they left. The bulbs were mounted carefully so they wouldn't mar the ceiling. The museum itself must be an exhibit.
     The plaques were all alike, but the cases were all different. Whitbread did not think it strange. No two Motie artifacts were ever precisely alike. But one … he almost laughed …
     A bubble of glass several meters long and two meters wide rested on a free-form sculpted frame of almost beach-colored metal. Both, looked brand-new. There was a plaque on the frame. Inside was an ornately carved wooden box, coffin sized, bleached white by age, its lid the remains of a rusted wire grille. It had a plaque. Under the rusted wire, a selection of wonderfully shaped, eggshell-thin pottery, some broken, some whole. Each piece in the set had a dated plaque. "It's like nested exhibits," he said.
     Potter did not laugh. "That's what it is. See here? The bubble case is about two thousand years old … that can't be right, can it?"
     "Not unless …" Whitbread rubbed his class ring along the glass bubble. "They're both scratched. Artificial sapphire." He tried it on the metal. The metal scratched the stone. "I'll accept two thousand."
     "But the box is around twenty-four hundred, and the pottery goes from three thousand up. Look you how the style changes. 'Tis a depiction of the rise and fall of a particular school of pottery styling."
     "Do you think the wooden case came out of another museum?"
     Whitbread did laugh then. They moved on. Presently Whitbread pointed and said, "Here, that's the same metal, isn't it?" The small two-handed weapon—it had to be a gun—carried the same date as the sapphire bubble.
     Beyond that was a puzzling structure near the wall of the great dome. It was made of a vertical lacework of hexagons, each formed from steel members two meters long. There were thick plastic frames in some of the hexagons, and broken fragments in others.
     Potter pointed out the gentle curve of the structure. " 'Twas another dome. A spherical dome with geodesic bracing. Not much left of it—and it wouldn't hae covered all of the compound anyway."
     "You're right. It didn't weather away, though. Look at how these members near the edge are twisted. Tornadoes? This part of the country seems flat enough." (nuclear attack)
     It took Potter a moment to understand. There were no tornadoes in the rough terraformed New Scotland. He remembered his meteorology lessons and nodded. "Aye. Maybe. Maybe." Beyond the fragments of the earlier dome Potter found a framework of disintegrating metal within what might have been a plastic shell. The plastic itself looked frayed and moth-eaten. There were two dates on the plaque, both in five figures. The sketch next to the plaque showed a narrow ground car, primitive looking, with three seats in a row. The motor hood was open.
     "Internal combustion," said Potter. "I had the idea that Mote Prime was short on fossil fuels."
     "Sally had an idea on that too. Their civilization may have gone downhill when they used up all their fossil fuels. I wonder."

     But the prize was behind a great glass picture window in one wall. They found themselves looking into the "steeple" past an ancient, ornately carved bronze plaque that had a smaller plaque on it.
     Within the "steeple" was a rocket ship. Despite the holes in the sides and the corrosion everywhere, it still held its shape: a long, cylindrical tank, very thin-walled, with a cabin showing behind a smoothly pointed nose.
     They made for the stairs. There must be another window on the first floor …
     And there was. They knelt to look into the motor.
     Potter said, "I don't quite …"
     "NERVA style," said Whitbread. His voice was almost a whisper. "Atomic. Very early type. You send some inert fuel through a core of uranium or plutonium or the like. Fission pile, prefusion …"
     "Are you sure?"
     Whitbread looked again before he nodded. "I'm sure."
     Fission had been developed after internal combustion; but there were still places in the Empire that employed internal combustion engines. Fission power was very nearly a myth, and as they stared the age of the place seemed to fall from the walls like a cloak and wrap them in silence.

(ed note: A Motie shows up in an aircraft and picks up Staley. He tells Staley that they and the others are marked for death because other factions of Moties are upset that the humans have found out the Motie's dreadful secret. A secret that actually truly is pretty dreadful. Could spell the downfall of the Terran Empire, which is why the Moties were hiding it. As the aircraft arrives at the museum Jonathon comes out and greets them.)

     "We've been exploring your—"
     "Jonathon, we don't have time," the Motie said. The other Brown-and-white eyed them with an air of impatience.
     "We're under a death sentence for trespassing." Staley said flatly. "I don't know why."
     There was silence. Whitbread said, "Neither do I. This is nothing but a museum—"
     "Yes," Whitbread's Motie said. "You would have to land here. It's not even bad luck. Your dumb animal miniatures must have programmed the reentry cones not to hit water or cities or mountain peaks. You were bound to come down in farm lands. Well, that's where we put museums."
     "Out here? Why?" Potter asked. He sounded as if he already knew. "There are nae people here—"
     "So they won't get bombed."

     The silence was part of the age of the place. The Motie said, "Gavin, you aren't showing much surprise."
     Potter attempted to rub his jaw. His helmet prevented it. "I don't suppose there's any chance of persuading you that we hae learned nothing?"
     "Not really. You've been here three hours."
     Whitbread broke in. "More like two. Horst, this place is fantastic! Museums within museums; it goes back incredibly far—is that the secret? That civilization is very old here? I don't see why you'd hide that."
     "You've had a lot of wars," Potter said slowly.
     The Motie bobbed her head and shoulder. "Yah."
     "Big wars."
     "Right. Also little wars."
     "How many?"
     "God's sake, Potter! Who counts? Thousands of Cycles. Thousands of collapses back to savagery. Crazy Eddie eternally trying to stop it. Well, I've had it. The whole decision-maker caste has turned Crazy Eddie, to my mind. They think they'll stop the pattern of Cycles by moving into space and settling other solar systems."
     Horst Staley's tone was flat. As he spoke he looked carefully around the dome and his hand rested on his pistol butt. "Do they? And what is it we know too much of?"
     "I'm going to tell you. And then I'm going to try to get you to your ship, alive—"

(ed note: This is very similar to the Pak Library)

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

(ed note: in the novel, it is discovered that there is an interesting galactic broadcast. Unfortunately the overriding signal is a special message (the "Destroyer") that somehow fries the brain of any human that watches it. Ivo Archer turns out to be immune, and sees that behind the overriding signal is sort of a galactic library broadcast. After a series of misadventures, our heroes arrive at one of the closest galactic stations which is sending the brain-frying message. It is deserted. They then stumble over a galactic museum.)

      They were in a long quiet hall lighted from the ceiling, a hall that slanted gently downward. "Down" was toward the center of the sphere, not the rim; nothing so simple as centripetal pseudo-gravity here. The materials of the hall's construction were conventional, as these things went; no scintillating shields, no compacted matter. If this were typical, the two-mile sphere could not possibly have the mass of a star, or even a planet. Somehow it generated gravity without mass.
     The situation was not, on second thought, surprising. A potent gravitic field was no doubt necessary to power the destroyer impulse, and it should be a simple matter to allow some of it to overlap around the unit, providing for visitors. It was handy for holding down satellites too, even at distances similar to those prevailing in the Solar System itself. Earth was only eight light-minutes from Sol....
     A hundred yards or so along, the hall widened into a level chamber. Here there were alcoves set in the walls, and objects resting within them.
     Afra reached into the alcove and lifted out its artifact. It was a sphere about four inches in diameter, rigid and light, made of some plastic material. It was transparent; as she held it up to the light they all could see its emptiness.
     "A container?" Groton conjectured.
     "A toy?" Beatryx said.
     Groton looked at her. "I wonder. An educational toy. A model of the destroyer?"
     "Not without docking vents," Afra said. She put it back and went on to the next. This was a cone six inches high with a flat base four inches across. It was made of the same transparent material, and was similarly empty.
     "Dunce cap," Ivo suggested.
     She ignored him and went on. The third figure was a cylindrical segment on the same scale as the cone, closed off by a flat disk at each end. It was solid but light, the silver-white surface opaque but reflective. Afra turned it about. "Metallic, but very light," she said. "Probably — "
     Suddenly she dropped it back in the alcove and brushed her hands against her shorts as though they were burning.
     The others watched her. "What happened?" Groton asked.
     "That's lithium!"
     Groton looked. "I believe you are right. But there's a polish on it — a coating of wax, perhaps. It shouldn't be dangerous to handle."
     What was so touchy about lithium? Ivo wondered, but he decided not to inquire. Probably it burned skin, like an acid, or was poisonous.

     Afra looked foolish. "I must be more nervous than I let on. I just never expected — " She paused, glancing down the wall. "Something occurs to me. Is the next one a silvery-gray pyramid?"
     Groton checked. "Close. Actually it's a tetrahedron, similar to the one we built originally on Triton. Your true pyramid has five sides, counting the bottom."
     "How do you know?"
     "This is an elemental arrangement. Look at — "
     "Elementary arrangement," Groton corrected her.
     "Elemental. You do know what an element is? Look at these objects. The first is a sphere, which means it has only one side: outside. The second is a closed cone: two sides, one curved, one flat. The third, the cylinder, has three. Yours has four, and so on. The first two aren't empty — they're gases! Hydrogen and helium, first and second elements on the periodic table — "
     "Could be," Groton said, impressed.
     "And likely to be so for any technologically advanced species. Lithium, the metal that's half the weight of water, third. Beryllium, fourth. Boron — "
     She broke off again and lurched for the sixth alcove — and froze before it.
     The others followed. There lay a four-inch cube — six sides — of a bright clear substance.
     Groton picked it up. "What's number six on the table? Six protons, six electrons... isn't that supposed to be carbon?" Then he too froze, eyes fixed on the cube. The light refracted through it strongly.
     Then Ivo made the connection. "Carbon in crystalline form — that's diamond!"
     They gazed upon it: sixty-four cubic inches of diamond, that had to have been cut from a much larger crystal.
     A single exhibit — of scores in the hall.

     Then Afra was moving down the length of the room, calling off the samples. "Nitrogen — oxygen — fluorine — neon...."
     Groton shook his head. "What a fortune! And they're only samples, shape-coded for ready reference. They — "
     Words failed him. Reverently, he replaced the diamond block.
     "Scandium — titanium — vanadium — chromium — " Afra chanted as she rushed on. "They're all here! All of them!"
     Beatryx was perplexed. "Why shouldn't they put them on display, if they want to?"
     Groton came out of his daze. "No reason, dear. No reason at all. It's just a very expensive exhibit, to leave open to strangers. Perhaps it is their way of informing us that wealth means nothing to them."
     She nodded, reassured.
     "The rare earths, too!" Afra called. She was now on the opposite side of the room, working her way back. "Here's promethium — pounds of it! And it doesn't even occur in nature!"
     "Does she know all the elements by heart?" Ivo muttered.
     "Osmium! That little cube must weigh twenty pounds! And solid iridium — on Earth that would sell for a thousand dollars an ounce!"
     "Better stay clear of the radioactives, Afra!" Groton cautioned her.
     "They're glassed in. Lead glass, or something; no radiation. I hope. At least they don't have them by the pound! Uranium — neptunium — plutonium — "
     "Saturnium — jupiterium — marsium," Ivo muttered, facetiously carrying the planetary identifiers farther. It seemed to him that too much was being made of this exhibit. "Earthium — venusium — mercurochrome — "
     "Mercury," Groton said, overhearing him. "There is such an element."

     Afra came back at last, subdued. "Their table goes to a hundred and twenty. Those latter shapes get pretty intricate..."
     "You know better than that, Afra," Groton said. "Some of those artificial elements have half-lives of hours, even minutes. They can't sit on display."
     "Even seconds, half-life. They're still here. Look for yourself."
     "Facsimiles, maybe. Not — "
     "No." Groton looked for himself. "Must be some kind of stasis field," he said dubiously. "If they can do what they can do with gravity — "
     "Suddenly I feel very small," she said.

     But Ivo reminded himself that such tricks were nothing compared to the compression of an entire planet into its gravitational radius, and the protection of accompanying human flesh. This exhibit was impressive, but hardly alarming, viewed in perspective. He suspected that there was more to it than they had spotted so far.
     The hall continued beyond the element display, slanting down again. Ivo wondered about such things as the temperature. Sharp changes in it should affect some of the element-exhibits, changing them from solid to liquid, or liquid to gas. Yet the exhibit had been geared to a comfortable temperature for human beings, and was obviously a permanent arrangement. The layout, too — convenient for human beings, even to the height of the alcove.
     Had this been the destroyer station closest to Earth, there could have been suspicion of a carefully tailored show. But this one was almost fifty thousand light-years distant. It could not have been designed for men — unless there were men in the galaxy not of Earth. Or very similar creatures.
     The implications disturbed him, but no more than anything else about this strange museum. He knew it had been said that a planetary creature had to be somewhat like man in order to rise to civilization and technology, and that long chains of reasoning had been used to "prove" this thesis — but man's reasoning in such respects was necessarily biased, and he had discounted it. Yet if it were true — if it were true — did it also hold for man's personality? The greed, the stupidity, the bloodthirst — ?

     The passage opened into a second room. This one was much larger than the first, and the alcoves began at floor-level.
     "Machinery!" Groton exclaimed with the same kind of excitement Afra had expressed before. He went to the first exhibit: a giant slab of metal, shaped like a wedge of cheese. As he approached, a ball fell on it and rolled off. Nothing else happened.
     "Machine?" Ivo inquired.
     "Inclined plane — the elementary machine, yes."
     Well, if Groton were satisfied…
     The second item was a simple lever. Fulcrum and rod, the point of the latter wedged under a large block. As they came up to it, the rod moved, and the block slid over a small amount. Groton nodded, pleased, and Ivo followed him to the next. The two women walked ahead, giving only cursory attention to this display.
     The third resembled a vise. A long handle turned a heavy screw, so that the force applied was geared down twice. "Plane and lever," Groton remarked. "We're jumping ahead about fifty thousand years each time, as human technology goes."
     "So far."
     The fourth one had a furnace and a boiler, and resembled a primitive steam engine — which it was. The fifth was an electric turbine.
     After that they became complicated. To Ivo's untrained eye, they resembled complex motors, heaters and radio equipment. Some he recognized as variants of devices he had blue printed via the macroscope; others were beyond his comprehension. Not all were intricate in detail; some were deceptively smooth. He suspected that an old automobile mechanic would find a printed-circuit board with embedded micro-transistors to be similarly smooth. One thing he was sure of: none of it was fakery.
     Groton stopped at the tenth machine. "I thought I'd seen real technology when we terraformed Triton," he said. "Now — I am a believer. I've digested about as much as I care to try in one outing. Let's go on."

     The girls had already done so, and were in the next chamber. This contained what appeared to be objects of art. The display commenced with simple two- and three-dimensional representations of concretes and abstracts, and went on to astonishing permutations. This time it was Beatryx who was fascinated.
     "Oh, yes, I see it," she said, moving languidly from item to item. She was lovely in her absorption, as though the grandeur and artistry of what she perceived transfigured her own flesh. Now she outshone Afra. Ivo had not realized how fervent her interest in matters artistic was, though it followed naturally from her appreciation of music. He had assumed that what she did not talk about was of no concern to her, and now he chided himself for comprehending shallowly — yet again.
     The display did not appeal to him as a whole, but individual selections did. He could appreciate the mathematical symbolism in some; it was of a sophisticated nature, and allied to the galactic language codes.
     A number were portraits of creatures. They were of planets remote from Earth, but were intelligent and civilized, though he could not tell how he could be sure of either fact. Probably the subtle clues manifested themselves to him subliminally, as when Brad had first shown him alien scapes on the macroscope. Description? Pointless; the creatures were manlike in certain respects and quite alien in certain others. What mattered more was their intangible symmetry of form and dignity of countenance. These were Greek idealizations; the perfect physique with the well-tutored mind and disciplined emotion. These were handsome male, females and neuters. They were represented here as art, and they were art, in the same sense that a rendition of a finely contoured athlete or nude woman was art by human terms.
     The rooms continued, each one at a lower level than the one preceding, until it seemed that the party had to be at the second lap of a spiral. One chamber contained books; printed scrolls, coiled tapes, metallic memory disks. Probably all the information the builders of the station might have broadcast to space was here, the reply to anyone who might suspect that the destroyer was merely sour grapes delivered by an ignorant culture. It was, in retrospect, obvious that that had never been the case.
     One room contained food. Many hours and many miles had passed in fascination; they were hungry. Macroscopic chemical identifiers labeled the entrees, which were in stasis ovens. The party made selections as though they were dining at an automat, "defrosting" items, and the menu was strange but good.

From MACROSCOPE by Piers Anthony (1969)

(ed note: The aliens have been engaged in a war of extermination with the human empire for about a hundred years. But suddenly the humans learn how to use Chaos-prediction methods to allow them to win every single battle with the aliens.)

“Are weapons armed?” she asked the corvette-leader direct.

“Armed and under your control.” The answer was prompt. “You’re way beyond sensible weapon range, but good luck anyway.”

Scowling with concentration, Shadow worked assiduously at the firing controls, directing sixteen long-range missiles not at the alien craft but to theoretical points of intercept time and position where her Chaos insight told her the events were designed to take place. The space around the patrol-craft became patterned with long ion trials from the projectiles as they leaped on their mission from the tubes of the corvettes slightly to their rear, but over the communications channel came occasional expressions of disbelief in the validity of the courses the weapons were taking.

By this time Hover’s own screens had begun to acquire a scatter of light which was the image of the alien squadron still too distant to be resolved by the scanners. In closer proximity but receding fast, the images of the missiles could also be seen, making for their Chaos-predicted destination that appeared to hold scant chance of becoming the actual point of interception. The corvette-leader had also come to the same conclusion.

“I guess we screwed that one up! The bogies are way off line.”

As if deliberately to confound his statement, the whole alien squadron turned sharply to a new heading which curved them with unique precision exactly to the points to which the missiles had been heading. Even without the screens, the beautiful rosettes of the great explosions could be seen framed clearly against the dark wastes of the void. Shadow’s slight smile of triumph was a wonderful thing to see.

(ed note: using their Chaos-prediction bogy-finder scheme, the human fleet destroys all the hostile alien warships. But then the humans detect alien "ghost" ships, drifiting with no power on and no aliens aboard. Some scoutships are sent to survey the ghost ships.)

“What did the survey tell us, Jym?” asked Hover.

“The damndest thing. There’s only one way we can interpret those ghost ships—and that’s to assume they were deliberately set up as a sort of museum.”

“I don’t figure it.”

“Neither did we at first. There were no aliens aboard, but from the exhibits and the layout inside, I’d say the vessels were designed to give us a fair insight into what type of creatures they are, their habits and customs, and their sciences and arts. It was a thumbnail sketch of several non-human races we’ve often fought but never actually met.

“I believe it, because you tell me it’s so. But did you also figure out why they left them there?”

“We can only hazard a guess. But it has the right feel about it. We think this is a primary bridge attempting to cross the communications gap that separates the aliens from ourselves. They’ve given us this much understanding preparatory to trying to start a dialogue.

A dialogue on what?”

Peace, Cass. We think they’re trying to sue for peace.

“After all these years?”

“Don’t forget times have changed. They haven’t won a single engagement since we started our Bogy-finder scheme, and the rate at which they’re losing ships must be stretching their resources close to breaking point.”

“Are we going to respond?”

“We’ve nothing to lose by trying. Before we had their museum we didn’t even know what they looked like, let alone how we might start a conversation. Now we’re cracking the whole mystery open, and Space Force is assembling our own space-museum which we intend leaving in one of their regular patrol routes. This could be a big thing, Cass. Understanding can negate an awful lot of irrational fear—the sort of fear that makes a species start a shooting war when there’s maybe a more peaceful means to achieve the same end.”

From THE CHAOS WEAPON by Colin Kapp (1977)

(ed note: Terra discovers faster-than-light travel, and meets the other alien races in the galaxy. Those races are members of the Galactic Confederacy.

Relations get more and more tense over 200 years, since Terrans always wanted to be top dog, and have troubles taking orders from other species. Finally a Terran hot-head named Captain Reed Ballinger snaps, tells the Confederacy to perform upon itself an anatomical impossibility involving basic breeding functions, and bombs the Star Brain. The latter being the cosmic computer who runs the Confederacy.

The Star Brain is annoyed by this, and issues an edict that the human race is banned from space flight. All humans are landed on Terra, and a network of monitor satellites put in orbit to prevent any spaceship from lifting off.

      “Anybody waiting for you?” he asked Turk.
     “There’s no one who’d care whether I came back to Earth or shipped out to the Milky Way."
     Andy didn’t answer. No one would ship out again, ever. Tycho III was the last Earth ship to return home. By interstellar edict, space was now forever closed to Earthmen.
     “Say,” Turk said, trying to break the gloom of their thoughts, “don’t you have a brother who's a spaceman waiting for you?”
     “He was a spaceman," Andy corrected. There were no spacemen now, just earthbound exiles. “I don't know where he is.”
     Andy was delaying until the last possible instant the moment when he would step out of Tycho III’s airlock. Probably, he would never set foot inside a spaceship again; no Earthman would. Earth’s brief two hundred years in space were now history, ancient history.

(ed note: Captain Reed Ballinger has not learned his lesson, and decides to double-down on the "stupid" strategy. He obviously never heard the meme definition of "insanity". He has secretly gathered some still-working spacecraft, weapons from museums, and a crowd of young hot-heads. His big plan is to somehow break the monitor satellite blocade, fly his fleet to Canopus, and bomb the snot out of the Star Brain.)

     On his third day in Mexico, Andy was given the task of plotting an orbit out of subspace. He wished he had access to star charts, for the patterns of stars that emerged out of the smoky haze of simulated sub-space looked tantalizingly familiar.
     Wasn't that extremely bright Class F0 star on the right edge of the viewport Canopus?
     The home of the Star Brain?
     The unknown star's spectrum was F0 (actually A9 II), of that Andy was almost sure. And, even accounting for simulated proximity, it was extremely bright. Of the brightest stars in the sky, Andy remembered from his lessons at Luna Academy, Canopus stood second only to Sirius. And that was because Sirius’ distance from Sol System was a mere 8.7 light years, whereas eighty times that distance separated Canopus from Sol System (actually 310 ± 20 light-years).
     Sirius’ apparent visual magnitude was —1.58.
     Canopus’ apparent visual magnitude was —0.86 (actually −0.74).
     But Sirius’ absolute visual magnitude was only 1.3 on a scale that placed the sun itself at 4.8.
     And Canopus’ absolute visual magnitude, on the same scale, was an astonishing —7.5 (actually –5.71).
     The intelligent races of the Galaxy had selected a truly spectacular star system as the home of the Star Brain Was Andy plotting a simulated orbit toward it now?

Reed Ballinger thinks his master plan will result in Terra ruling the galaxy. But any rational human being can see it will just result in a galactic war and with a lifeless Terra glowing blue with radiation for about ten thousand years. The number of alien empires outnumber Terra by an order of magnitude or so.

There is a better solution, not that testosterone-poisoned anti-intellectual Reed Ballinger will ever admit it.)

     Frank had said, “Got your application all ready?”
     “I saw it in your desk. What’s the matter, Andy?”
     “It's nothing.”
     “Come on, now. This is your brother Frank you're talking to."
     “I guess I’m not sure, that's all.”
     “About being a spaceman? What else do you want to be? ”
     “You'll laugh if I tell you."
     “Try me," Frank suggested.
     And Andy, averting his eyes, had said uncomfortably, “Well, I was thinking of maybe being an archaeologist. "
     “A digger, huh?”
     Andy's face reddened as he defended the idea. “Did you ever stop to think of all the mysteries of mankind's past that haven’t been solved? Angkor, the origin of the Cretans, the way we keep on finding that so many of the ancient myths really happened, it's … fascinating,” Andy finished lamely.
     His brother Frank had surprised him. “Sure it is. And I can see how it would interest a bright kid like you.”
     “You mean you're not mad at me? ”
     “What for? You want to be an archaeologist; go ahead and be one. I have a hunch you'll make me proud of you.
     “Could be you'll be able to mix them, Andy."
     “Mix what? "
     “Space and archaeology. I didn't want to tell you till you made up your mind. But didn't it occur to you that every civilized world in the Galaxy has its archaeological past, just as Earth does? "
     “I guess so, but you never hear of diggers visiting each other’s worlds to study alien ancient history.”
     “That’s true, you don't," Frank said soberly. “Maybe it's one trouble with the Galaxy. Maybe it's why we need a Star Brain to tell us what to do, because we don't take the trouble to understand each other."
     “I think we ought to.”
     Frank smiled. “ Keep thinking like that, and I have a hunch one of these years I'll sit back and watch my famous brother.”

(The protagonist Andy escapes from Ballinger's secret base, and eventualy finds his way to another secret base, one with a much better idea about how to deal with the Star Brain)

     Andy saw the flat tundra, a range of low pine-covered hills, a little valley beyond them with the glistening silver thread of a river twisting through it … and in the valley surrounded by row after row of tiny rectangles that Andy realized were small buildings, a single enormous spaceship.
     It stood, tail down, near the girders of its gantry, proud slim nose pointing at the sky. It seemed poised and expectant, as if ready to blast off momentarily.
     “That is the old Thule III,” Freya said. “Your brother’s ship on his last command. An accident was arranged when it was sent to a European base for dismantling, and the authorities think Thule III lies at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Instead, as you can see, it is here. In it we will win our way back to space again.”
     “A single spaceship, against the rockets of the Monitor Satellites?”
     “Yes, Andy. A single spaceship. But we have a weapon Reed Ballinger never thought of. "
     “Then you are going to blast your way back into space," Andy said, trying unsuccessfully to check the anger in his voice.
     “Perhaps you can call it that. Thule III has been renamed. Now it is the Nobel, named for the nineteenth century Swede, Alfred Nobel, who gave the world dynamite and lived to regret it and to establish the prizes given in his name."
     “Nobel?” Andy repeated the man’s name. It sounded familiar.
     “Yes. And the most coveted prize conferred in his name was the Nobel Peace Prize. That will be our secret weapon, Andy."
     “What will? I don't understand."
     “Ballinger showed the Galaxy the violence we human beings are capable of and, if he has his way, will do so again. Nobel invented dynamite in the pre-atomic age and lived to see the world ravaged by terrible wars his invention made possible. Alfred Nobel established his peace prize to honor the greatest achievements of mankind in his time.” Freya finished, “The ship which is his namesake will take into space a record of humanity’s proudest achievements. Not achievements for war and destruction, Andy, but for peace. Our secret weapon will be the history of mankind. Despite the Genghis Khans and Neros and Hitlers and Stalins and Ballingers, we think it is a good history and a glorious one. We will offer it to the Galaxy as our answer to the Edict.”

     The high tundra country above the Arctic Circle had never seen anything like it. Even the sun, here in this summer of perpetual daylight, seemed to stand still in awe and watch.
     Mankind was assembling the strangest weapon ever devised.
     In the bustling camp south of Hammerfest on the North Cape, under the thrusting spire of the waiting spaceship Nobel, scientists from all over the world had come in answer to Frank Marlow’s and Lambert Strayer's summons. Their task: in a few short weeks to assemble a history of humanity to show the Star Brain and the other civilized races of the Galaxy as proof that Earth had eamed its place in the concert of worlds.

     “Because of the hundred worlds that have produced a reasonably high order of civilization in the Galaxy, we know absolutely nothing about the history of any of them. It is as if they have all appeared, full blown, with the advent of the interstellar spaceship." Dr. Seys was pacing in a rapid circle around Andy with his small, frail hands clasped behind his back. “Spaceships, bah. I hate them. They bring alien peoples together, they bridge unthinkable chasms of space — a hundred light years, two hundred, a thousand — and what do we know of each other? We know that the Arcturans can produce cobalt bombs as deadly as ours. We know that the Sirians have a vast store of nerve gas to contaminate the atmosphere of any world foolish enough to attack Sirius."
     “Yes, but…
     “We do not know one solitary fact about the past history of the Arcturans. We know nothing of the Sirians as a civilization. We do not know their past greatness or their future hopes. We do not know if their civilizations are as old as ours or older or only perhaps half so old." Dr. Seys took a deep breath. He had been talking so fast that, as far as Andy could tell, it was his first.
     “Once, long ago,” he went on, “a German wrote a book about the tyranny of Greece over Germany. We Germanic people…
     “I never knew Germany and Greece fought a war, Dr. Seys.”
     “War? Who is talking of war? The tyranny is a tyranny of the intellect. We Germanic peoples love it. We feel Periclean Greece was the bedrock of civilization on Earth, the solid foundation on which all subsequent civilizations have built. That is the tyranny I meant. But don't you see, Mr. Moran, if Greece gave Earth the high beginnings of so much of our philosophy and art and drama and architecture and law and morality, isn’t it possible that on Fomalhaut or Aldebaran or Centauri a parallel situation can be found? We know nothing of those people. Nothing. That is why I am doing this."
     “I beg your pardon," Andy said. “You lost me."
     “Because if we reach the Star Brain with the story of mankind’s past, the others from all the far-flung worlds of the Galaxy will come, too. To watch us, young man. And in watching they will leam about us. And if they learn about us, they may decide to let us learn about them. What I hope for, Mr. Moran, is the start of the first exchange of cultural information among the intelligent races of the Galaxy. What is Procyon’s Greece? Who were Deneb's Hellenes? What was it in the past of the Eriadnians which made them develop telepathy as a means of communications? Why is the number four of mystic significance to the Antarans?
     “Consider, Mr. Morgan. We human beings have been in space barely two hundred years. But subspace drive, making journeys among the stars possible, we didn't develop until two generations ago. To laymen on Earth, the distances are still unthinkable; young man, there are as yet no pleasure trips among the stars. Our ships were crammed with technicians, engineers, miners, each one with a specific job. The same is true of the ships of every other world. Not only that, but each world has always been jealous of the mining rights assigned to it by the Star Brain. And each has been even more afraid of the military might of all the others. I ask you, Mr. Morgan, is this a good basis for mutual understanding? It has been impossible under the circumstances. Through fear, through suspicion, through distrust and misunderstanding, we know no more about each other than we did before subspace travel made interstellar flights possible. We all are ostriches with our heads in the sand.
     “A hundred worlds, my boy, and a hundred million mysteries for us to solve. This can be the start of a new day in the Galaxy. That is why I am here." Dr. Seys took his second deep breath. “Are you clever with your hands?”
     “I’ll try to help, sir."
     And, in the days that followed, Andy tried. Under the part-time supervision of the volatile Austrian, he and five other ex-Cadets painstakingly built the plaster model of the Athenian High City from the collections of plans and pictures Dr. Seys had brought from Vienna to Norway. The indefatigable Dr. Seys was busy with a half-dozen other projects too. Once he paced past the plaster model and said to Andy’s back:
     “The good with the bad, we must show them everything. No lies, no half-truths, no brain-washing, Mr. Morgan. The High City is beautiful, yes? But all was not beautiful in the fourth century B.C. If Athens was the shining pinnacle of civilization, Sparta to the south never got over its militaristic ways. Sparta was an armed camp dedicated to its war goddess, Artemis Orthia. And in the hills to the north, in the rude savage cities of Macedon, Philip and his son Alexander after him waited patiently to pounce on the civilization Athens had produced. We are doing a map in plaster, too, my young friend. The ancient world from Greece to India, and the trail of Alexander’s conquests. We will show them the bad with the good. We will show them the Earth as it was. It is for them to decide whether Earth is to be judged by the philosophy of a Plato and the drama of a Euripides or the barracks-life of a Spartan and the swords and shields of an Alexander."
     Dr. Seys’s projects were ambitious, but they were just a few among the many that were being assembled in Norway. In plaster, in faithful reproductions of works of art, in translation of the world’s great literature into a dozen interstellar languages, in maps and drawings and books and microfilm, five thousand years of human history, all the glory and vanity and tragedy of a civilization — of all the civilizations that had brought Earth to this particular point in time and space — were being collected and systematized for their strange journey across the Galaxy.

     “You guessed it, Cadet. I’ve been a fool to believe in Reed Ballinger this long. He's not interested in Earth's returning to space … unless it returns with Captain Reed Ballinger leading the way.”
     “And you actually think that stuff Andy told me and Charlie Sands about Project Nobel can… "
     “It gives us a chance, Turk. Not just us. Not just Earthmen. Don't you see? Whether the Star Brain accepts a record of Earth's greatest achievements as a reason to give Earth a second chance in space is one thing and it's mighty important. But it can lead to something even more important. Do you know anything of the history of the Denebians?"
     “The Denebians? No, I don’t,” Turk said, puzzled.
     “Or the Antarans? The Formalhautians? The Sirians? The Centaurians?”
     “No, but… "
     “Well, they don't know anything about us either. "
     “We’ve had interstellar contact for the purposes of trade, but if one single worth-while idea has been exchanged among the Galactic races, I'm not aware of it. Do you think, if the Star Brain accepts Earth's record, the other races will just stand by and watch? You can bet your life they won’t. They'd all want to get into the act Turk. To get back on even cultural terms with Earth, they’ll all prepare their own histories. First for the Star Brain, then for each other.

(ed note: Our heros win through all the forces arrayed against them, and reach Canopus. The Star Brain gives them permission to present their historical information.)

     The Star Brain’s scanning mechanism was next. It was a long, vault-like chamber with a high ceiling and receiving screens on all four walls. High along one wall was a narrow catwalk patrolled by the guardians, and it was on this ramp that the guides took the Earth-men. They had come just in time to see the beginning of Earth’s case on its own behalf. Three Nobel anthropologists stood in the center of the room, preparing to project slides on one of the screens.
     Their leader was a Lebanese named Habib Malik, and while the Star Brain listened to and recorded his words, he said: “My name is Malik. I am an anthropologist from American University in Beirut, Lebanon, a small independent state in Western Asia, the largest of Earth’s continents. I am here to tell you of the earliest advent of premodem man on the planet Earth.
     “We do not know how long ago the prelizard-men of Capella first emerged from their native swamps, though we would like to. We do not know how long ago the prebirdmen of Sirius came down from their loftiest branches, though we would like to. We do not know how long ago the pre-intelligent ungulates of Arcturus left their meadows to build the cities of their civilization, though we would like to.
     “We believe, in short, that our presentation of the history and achievements — yes, and failures — of Earthmen can be a valuable beginning. Whatever your decision on the merits of Earth’s plea to be allowed to retum to space, at least this record we give you will become a part of your memory banks. If nothing else, we hope it instills a desire in the other members of the Confederacy to do the same and present their histories. We believe along this road lies the only sure way to permanent mutual understanding."
     Habib Malik, a small, bald, olive-skinned man of middle age, took a deep breath, stared at the blank unanswering screen, and went on: “Just as the physical sciences on all the worlds have, through new discoveries, constantly pushed back the date of the beginning of the physical universe of stars and nebulae so that now we can safely say the Galaxy is not less than twelve billion years old and may be a very great deal older than that, so the anthropologists of Earth, through new discoveries, have constantly pushed back the date of earliest man. By earliest man we mean clearly a member of genus homo rather than a half-man, half-ape. We would like to begin our story with this earliest true man, not yet homo sapiens as you see him standing before you, but more than an animal.
     “The distinction between animal and man, we anthropologists always have contended, is one of tool making. The first true men fashioned tools with a purpose — whether for hunting or the skinning of animals or, regrettably, warfare against his fellows — out of material at hand. He… "
     Andy’s guide, hearing the translation in his helmet, said excitedly, “Why, it is so on Capella, too! That is the very distinction we make."
     …tools culminating finally in the most complex device ever developed on any world,” Malik was saying. “And by this, of course, I mean the Star Brain. But if man and the other intelligent races had not started with simple flint knives and spearheads, the ultimate evolution to a Star Brain would have been impossible.
     “The earliest known true man's remains were found on the continent of Africa, in a place called Olduvi Gorge at the southem end of the Great Rift Valley. For this reason, we call him Olduvi man.
     “Geologically, he belongs to the Lower Pleistocene period. That is to say, Olduvi man was making his first crude tools in the Great Rift Valley six hundred thousand years ago.”
     “Remarkable!” exclaimed the Capellan. “We, too, on Capella date our earliest true ancestor back at least six hundred thousands of your years ago. It is as if our evolutions had started coevally across the gulf of light years." (actually, that is a rather suspicious coincidence. It suggests a local supernova destroyed all life in the vicinity and reset the development clock of both Sol and Capella to the same zero. Or maybe a wave of berserkers...)
     They waited on the catwalk, listening intently to Habib Malik's words. If anything, the Capellans, for the first time being granted a vision of Earth’s past, seemed more interested than their companions from Earth.
     When Malik finished his presentation, the second anthropologist began to speak. “If Olduvi man was the first true man, then Cro-Magnon man was the first full man. Thirty or forty thousand years ago, he appeared in Western Europe, a small peninsula jutting west from the great Asian land mass, and… "
     “I am afraid we must leave," the Capellan guide said with frank regret. “We must go on duty shortly, you see. But even if we don't guide you again, we’ll be back here. I for one want to learn more of this."
     It was, Andy told himself happily, a magnificent start. The Star Brain's objective interest was assured, but the curiosity of their Capellan guides was as unexpected as it was heartening.

     Later that day, Andy and Turk returned to the scanner room to see Dr. Seys stand before the four screens.
     “My name is Dr. Seys,” he said. “I am a historian of classic civilization at the University of Vienna in Austria, a small nation in the east of Europe.
     “You have now seen how man’s earliest, but admittedly barbaric and superstition-motivated, civilizations sprang up in the river valleys of the Indus, the Tigris-Euphrates, and the Nile. It is now my honor to introduce what many men of Earth consider the first true rational society. This was no hidebound civilization limited geographically by the extent of a river valley and morally by the totalitarian rule of a select group. For its citizens, this was the first attempt ever made at true democracy, and in some ways, though the franchise was limited, the attempt never has been surpassed.
     “The civilization I am introducing sprang up on the shores of a great sea, called the Mediterranean. Its peoples called themselves Hellenes. We today call them Greeks.
     “Three thousand years ago in one packed century and chiefly in one small city they built virtually out of chaos a civilization all Earth can look to with pride. The one small city was the city of Athens.
     “It produced in a span of less than a hundred years, three of the greatest dramatists the Earth ever has known. These were Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, and their works will be fed into the scanner later. It produced three philosophers without peer on Earth: Socrates, his disciple Plato; and Plato's disciple Aristotle. Its architecture…
     Andy listened, fascinated. He became aware of several Capellans joining him and Turk on the catwalk. They were guiding no Earthmen but had come because they wanted to hear.
     “…‘nothing in excess,’ ” Dr. Seys was saying. “But that is ironic, for though it was the guiding motto of these Hellenes of Athens, theirs was the most exuberant, active, Dionysian, excessive civilization the Earth was to know until Elizabethan England, which you shall hear about later. My point is that such a motto is revered precisely because it was the opposite of the exuberance confronting Socrates. But if the very excesses of the Greeks made possible a Socrates or a Euripides, we of Earth are thankful for it.”
     Dr. Seys spoke for fifteen minutes more, and then an historian Andy didn’t know began to speak of the conquest of Greece by the Macedonians and the spreading, by the sword of Alexander the Great, of Hellenic culture as far as India.
     “Incredible! ” said one of the Capellans.
     “Starting from one small city," said another.
     “Didn’t our earliest attempts at a moral democracy start in the small seacoast town of Erbodine?”

     “Data now sufficient,” boomed the Star Brain suddenly.
     More silence, then:
     “Yours is a fascinating story, men of Earth. But I gather it is not unique. I gather that if each of the many worlds that built me came here with its story I would learn similar histories of achievement and failure, of good and evil. Is that correct?"
     Andy heard the Capellans gasp. It was the first time the Star Brain ever had asked a question.
     “That's correct,” Captain Strayer said promptly.
     “I also gather,” said the Star Brain, “that you tried to deceive me. A second time I was close to bombing…and by the same man of Earth. Is this what you consider a guarantee of your good intentions?”
     Another question from the Star Brain. The Capellans were astonished. Captain Strayer glanced at Andy, who had told him what had happened in the power plant. Stepping forward, Captain Strayer said:
     “We never guaranteed our good intentions. You said it yourself: among humans there is achievement and failure, good and evil. We do what we can. We are not machines. We have emotions."

     There was a long silence. The Capellans looked at each other anxiously. Then the Star Brain said: “Earth’s motive in presenting Earth’s history was to be granted another chance in space. The question now is whether or not I will remove the Edict that has outlawed Earthmen from space.” Andy held his breath.
     “The answer is that I will. Earth is free to join the Confederacy as an active member again."
     A great shout went up, loud in Andy's helmet intercom. The listening Capellans contributed to it as much as the Earthmen.
     “Under one condition," said the Star Brain. “And that is this: every member of the Confederacy must prepare a history as Earth has done. I need more data. Repeat: I need more data. For what happened here proves that you creatures of protoplasm, my builders, from whatever world and in whatever shape, are no machines. You emote. Whether for good or for bad, only the future will tell. Repeat: I need more data.
     “But creatures of Earth and creatures of Capella, I can see a time when the sentient beings of the Galaxy, not their mechanical creations, must fully determine their own future. The sooner you all present your data, the sooner this time will come.
     “I can see a future in which the Brain you have built will be nothing but a clearing house for the mutual exchange of knowledge. I can see a Galactic civilization living in harmony from Ophiuchus to the Magellanic Clouds. I can see…
     “When?” shouted a Capellan.
     “Data insufficient," answered the Star Brain.

From SPACEMEN GO HOME by Milton Lesser (1961)

Time Capsule

A Time Capsule is a tiny mini-museum inside a preserving shell, deliberately buried for the benefit of future archeologists or interstellar visitors. A time capsule from a vanished alien civilization could be very valuable, since it would be actively trying to help the discoverer to understand the contents.

Wikipedia notes that the two Pioneer Plaques and the two Voyager Golden Records are basically time capsules that are "buried" in deep space.

Some have suggested that an interstellar empire afraid of an impending Long Night might want to use time capsules as insurance. Capsules can be located in strategic areas and filled with Global Village Construction Sets in their secondary role as "civilization starter kits." When civilization starts its painful advance out of the dark ages, the kits will give a useful jump-start.


A time capsule is a historic cache of goods or information, usually intended as a method of communication with future people and to help future archaeologists, anthropologists, or historians. Time capsules are sometimes created and buried during celebrations such as a world's fair, a cornerstone laying for a building, or at other events.


Time capsules are placed with the intention that they will be opened or accessed at a future date.

One of the earliest time capsules known was discovered in November 30, 2017 in Burgos, Spain. A wooden statue of Jesus Christ had hidden inside it a document with economic, politic and cultural information, written by Joaquín Mínguez, chaplain of the Cathedral of Burgo de Osma in 1777.

An early example of the use of a time capsule was the Detroit Century Box. The brainchild of Detroit mayor William C. Maybury, it was created on December 31, 1900, and scheduled to be opened 100 years later. It was filled with photographs and letters from 56 prominent residents describing life in 1900 and making predictions for the future, and included a letter by Maybury addressed to the mayor of Detroit in 2000. The capsule was opened by city officials on December 31, 2000, in a ceremony presided over by mayor Dennis Archer.

The 1939 New York World's Fair time capsule was created by Westinghouse as part of their exhibit. It was 90 inches (2.3 metres) long, with an interior diameter of 6.5 inches (16 cm), and weighed 800 pounds (360 kg). Westinghouse named the copper, chromium and silver alloy "Cupaloy", claiming it had the same strength as mild steel. It contained everyday items such as a spool of thread and doll, a Book of Record (description of the capsule and its creators), a vial of staple food crop seeds, a microscope and a 15-minute RKO Pathé Pictures newsreel. Microfilm spools condensed the contents of a Sears Roebuck catalog, dictionary, almanac, and other texts.

This first modern time capsule was followed in 1965 by a second capsule at the same site, but 10 feet to the north of the original. Both capsules are buried 50 feet below Flushing Meadows Park, site of the Fair. Both the 1939 and 1965 Westinghouse Time Capsules are meant to be opened in 6939. More recently, in 1985, Westinghouse created a smaller, Plexiglas shell to be buried beneath the New York Marriott Marquis hotel, in the heart of New York's theater district. However, this time capsule was never put in place.

The Crypt of Civilization (1936) at Oglethorpe University, intended to be opened in 8113, is generally regarded as the first modern time capsule, although it was not called one at the time. George Edward Pendray is responsible for coining the term "time capsule." During the socialist period in the USSR, many time capsules were buried with messages to a future communist society.

Currently, four time capsules are "buried" in space. The two Pioneer Plaques and the two Voyager Golden Records have been attached to spacecraft for the possible benefit of spacefarers in the distant future. A fifth time capsule, the KEO satellite, was scheduled to be launched in 2015-16. However, it has been delayed several times and an actual launch date has not been given. After launch, it will carry individual messages from Earth's inhabitants addressed to earthlings around the year 52,000, when it is due to return to Earth.

It is widely debated when time capsules were first used but current evidence shows it was used as early as 1876, however, the principle is fairly simple and the idea and first use of time capsules could be much older than we currently know. In 2014, a Revolutionary-era time capsule was found at the Massachusetts State House dating to 1795 and credited to Samuel Adams and Paul Revere. It was previously opened in 1855 with some contents added. A time capsule dating 1777 was discovered within a religious statute in Sotillo de la Ribera.

The International Time Capsule Society was created to maintain a global database of all existing time capsules.


According to time capsule historian William Jarvis, most intentional time capsules usually do not provide much useful historical information: they are typically filled with "useless junk", new and pristine in condition, that tells little about the people of the time. Many time capsules today contain only artifacts of limited value to future historians. Historians suggest that items which describe the daily lives of the people who created them, such as personal notes, pictures, and documents, would greatly increase the value of the time capsule to future historians.

If time capsules have a museum-like goal of preserving the culture of a particular time and place for study, they fulfill this goal very poorly in that they, by definition, are kept sealed for a particular length of time. Subsequent generations between the launch date and the target date will have no direct access to the artifacts and therefore these generations are prevented from learning from the contents directly. Therefore, time capsules can be seen, in respect to their usefulness to historians, as dormant museums, their releases timed for some date so far in the future that the building in question is no longer intact.

Historians also concede that there are many preservation issues surrounding the selection of the media to transmit this information to the future. Some of these issues include the obsolescence of technology and the deterioration of electronic and magnetic storage media (known as the digital dark age), and possible language problems if the capsule is dug up in the distant future. Many buried time capsules are lost, as interest in them fades and the exact location is forgotten, or they are destroyed within a few years by groundwater.

Archives and archival materials, including videos, might be the best types of time capsules, as long as the medium can still be used, or the data can be read by the latest technologies and software.

From the Wikipedia entry for TIME CAPSULE

      No one could remember when the tribe had begun its long journey. The land of great rolling plains that had been its first home was now no more than a half-forgotten dream.
     For many years Shann and his people had been fleeing through a country of low hills and sparkling lakes, and now the mountains lay ahead. This summer they must cross them to the southern lands. There was little time to lose. The white terror that had come down from the Poles, grinding continents to dust and freezing the very air before it, was less than a day’s march behind.
     Shann wondered if the glaciers could climb the mountains ahead, and within his heart he dared to kindle a little flame of hope. This might prove a barrier against which even the remorseless ice would batter in vain. In the southern lands of which the legends spoke, his people might find refuge at last.
     Then Shann lifted his eyes to the south, and saw the doom of all his hopes. For there at the edge of the world glimmered that deadly light he had seen so often to the north—the glint of ice below the horizon.
     There was no way forward. Through all the years of flight, the glaciers from the south had been advancing to meet them. Soon they would be crushed beneath the moving walls of ice …

     Southern glaciers did not reach the mountains until a generation later. In that last summer the sons of Shann carried the sacred treasures of the tribe to the lonely cairn overlooking the plain. The ice that had once gleamed below the horizon was now almost at their feet. By spring it would be splintering against the mountain walls.
     No one understood the treasures now. They were from a past too distant for the understanding of any man alive. Their origins were lost in the mists that surrounded the Golden Age, and how they had come at last into the possession of this wandering tribe was a story that now would never be told. For it was the story of a civilization that had passed beyond recall.
     Once, all these pitiful relics had been treasured for some good reason, and now they had become sacred though their meaning had long been lost. The print in the old books had faded centuries ago though much of the lettering was still visible—if there had been any to read it. But many generations had passed since anyone had had a use for a set of seven-figure logarithms, an atlas of the world, and the score of Sibelius’ Seventh Symphony printed, according to the flyleaf, by H. K. Chu and Sons, at the City of Pekin in the year 2371 A.D.
     The old books were placed reverently in the little crypt that had been made to receive them. There followed a motley collection of fragments—gold and platinum coins, a broken telephoto lens, a watch, a cold-light lamp, a microphone, the cutter from an electric razor, some midget radio tubes, the flotsam that had been left behind when the great tide of civilization had ebbed forever.
     All these treasures were carefully stowed away in their resting place. Then came three more relics, the most sacred of all because the least understood.
     The first was a strangely shaped piece of metal, showing the coloration of intense heat. It was, in its way, the most pathetic of all these symbols from the past, for it told of man’s greatest achievement and of the future he might have known. The mahogany stand on which it was mounted bore a silver plate with the inscription.
  • Auxiliary Igniter from Starboard Jet
  • Spaceship “Morning Star”
  • Earth-Moon, A.D. 1985
     Next followed another miracle of the ancient science—a sphere of transparent plastic with strangely shaped pieces of metal imbedded in it. At its center was a tiny capsule of synthetic radio-element, surrounded by the converting screens that shifted its radiation far down the spectrum. As long as the material remained active, the sphere would be a tiny radio transmitter, broadcasting power in all directions. Only a few of these spheres had ever been made. They had been designed as perpetual beacons to mark the orbits of the asteroids. But man had never reached the asteroids and the beacons had never been used.
     Last of all was a flat, circular tin, wide in comparison with its depth. It was heavily sealed, and rattled when shaken. The tribal lore predicted that disaster would follow if it was ever opened, and no one knew that it held one of the great works of art of nearly a thousand years before (a movie film).

     So the centuries passed, and presently there happened something that must occur once at least in the history of every world in the universe, no matter how remote and lonely it may be.
     The ship from Venus came five thousand years too late, but its crew knew nothing of this. While still many millions of miles away, the telescopes had seen the great shroud of ice that made Earth the most brilliant object in the sky next to the sun itself.
     Here and there the dazzling sheet was marred by black specks that revealed the presence of almost buried mountains. That was all. The rolling oceans, the plains and forests, the deserts and lakes—all that had been the world of man was sealed beneath the ice, perhaps forever.
     The ship closed in to Earth and established an orbit less than a thousand miles away. For five days it circled the planet, while cameras recorded all that was left to see and a hundred instruments gathered information that would give the Venusian scientists many years of work.

     An actual landing was not intended. There seemed little purpose in it. But on the sixth day the picture changed. A panoramic monitor, driven to the limit of its amplification, detected the dying radiation of the five-thousand-year-old beacon. Through all the centuries, it had been sending out its signals with ever-failing strength as its radioactive heart steadily weakened.
     The monitor locked on the beacon frequency. In the control room, a bell clamored for attention. A little later, the Venusian ship broke free from its orbit and slanted down toward Earth, toward a range of mountains that still towered proudly above the ice, and to a cairn of gray stones that the years had scarcely touched…

From HISTORY LESSON by Arthur C. Clarke (1949)

ARCHAEOLOGISTS, studying the past, are handicapped by the fact that relics are usually few and in poor condition. Often, one is not even sure where to look for them. Out of such finds—from tombs, ruined cities, swamps, deserts, and any other place where men of the past have left some trace of themselves—the archaeologist tries to build up a picture of these men's lives and civilizations. But there are great gaps in our knowledge and probably always will be. For instance, we cannot yet read the inscriptions left by the ancient Cretans, and so are in the dark about many features of their high civilization. We know almost nothing of their actual history, and we are not even sure who the people were that finally destroyed them. In like manner, there are many things we would like to know about the Etruscans, Khmers, Mayans, and other important nations and tribes of the past; but we have simply not found enough complete records and relics to have a good picture.

Hundreds of years from now, our own modern civilization may be as remote and mysterious as these cultures. As in this story, where I have laid the scene five hundred years in the future, after our present-day civilization was destroyed by the misuse of the atom bomb, the wise men of that day would be able to learn what we were like from time capsules.

As to what a time capsule is, many definitions could be given, but let us stick to the facts. “Time capsule" is a coined name for a container of some kind which is filled with pictures, models, and other records which give a view as complete as possible of the world of the time—how the people lived, what they ate and wore and knew and thought. The container is then buried in a safe place for scientists of the far future to dig up.

The idea of leaving tokens for the future is not entirely new. Such inscriptions as the great one on the Rock of Behistun, in Asia Minor, were made so that all men to come would know of the king who had ordered it. When a Chinese emperor in the third century B.c. tried to destroy certain texts, scholars hid copies in the hope that later generations would find them. This hope was realized, and so such writings as the Confucian Willow Books were saved for posterity. However, no such systematic attempts as we are discussing were, to my knowledge, made before the twentieth century. This is probably because of the difficulty of reconstructing the past, and because only since Schliemann’s time has there been any real science of archaeology.

I believe there are only two time capsules in existence—one at Atlanta, Georgia, and one in New York City, which is the best known.

This time capsule was made by the Westinghouse Company and was buried in 1938 on the site of the World’s Fair of 1939. It was meant to be dug up again in five thousand years, in AD. 6938. A Book of Record was prepared and 3,650 copies printed on permanent paper with special ink. This Book of Record describes the contents, the exact location, and the purpose of the time capsule. It also contains a request that it be translated into new languages as they appear. However, in case this is not done, the book contains a carefully worked-out phonetic and linguistic key to the English language, from which any trained linguist can reconstnrct our tongue. One copy was placed in the time capsule itself; the rest, distributed to libraries, museums, monasteries, lamaseries, temples, and other safe places around the world. It is hoped that some few copies, at least, will last the full five thousand years. Even if none does, the capsule will probably be found someday, for the site of New York City will always be of great interest to future archaeologists.

The capsule itself is a torpedo-shaped vessel, seven and one-half feet long and eight and three-eighths inches in diameter, made of cupraloy (a very resistant alloy of copper) one inch thick. Inside, it is lined with Pyrex glass and, after being packed and the air pumped out, it was filled with humid nitrogen to preserve the contents from decay and corrosion. It was lowered fifty feet into the earth through a steel pipe to a base of waterproof concrete. Pitch was poured in around it, then a top layer of concrete, after which the pipe was cut off and pulled out and the hole was filled in. With these precautions it should be safe from vandals such as the grave robbers who destroyed much valuable material in the Egyptian pyramids; and geologists have assured us that in five thousand years the land will not have sunk below the sea. The time capsule should easily last its appointed period.

The shell contains messages to the future from prominent men and various technical aids to translators. There are numerous articles of common usefulness, pleasure, clothing, and vanity, such as a watch, hats, games, money, seeds, pipe and tobacco pouch, and so on. There are also a magnifier and a viewer for the microfrlmed texts and the newsreel. This newsreel is a sound film running about fifteen minutes and showing characteristic or significant events of the year l938—scenes from military maneuvers and the Sino-Japanese War then taking place, a fashion show, a Presidential address, and so on.

On microfilm, there are a great many texts which are meant to give as complete a picture as possible of the world of 1938. There are photographs of industrial processes and works of art; books and encyclopedic articles describing what we knew and did and thought; some outstanding novels and dramas of the twentieth century; and even comic strips.

The entire capsule is, indeed, a treasure chest of information about our own lives and times, not only the great events and discoveries, but the small details of everyday living.

The one at Atlanta is, as far as I know, quite similar, though it contains more models of machinery, houses, and so forth. Probably more time capsules will be laid down from time to time in the future.

As the repository described in this book is not entirely like these, I have called it a “time vault” instead. It was not meant purely for wise men or scientists, but for the common men of the future, whom the maker foresaw would have sunk back to a barbaric state of life. He wanted them to find and enter the vault easily, and use its contents as a guide to rebuilding civilization. To facilitate this, he put his relics in a large cellar or vault underground, lined with concrete so it would not collapse, and left a door above ground for anyone who wished to enter. He did not microfilm his books, since these people of the future would probably not understand what he had done. Instead, he left them in steel cabinets with close-fitting doors, safe from animals, insects, fire, and damp. He chose books which would be easy to read and understand, as well as more complicated ones when the simple texts had been mastered. And he left plans and models not only of the great machines we now have, such as automobiles and airplanes, but also of things which backward peoples could make for themselves right away —balloons, windmills, schooners, simple blast furnaces, and the like. It was his hope that the people of the future would go on from this to make the more powerful machines of his own time. And he left them also the great works of art, literature, religion, and philosophy, hoping that these would teach men to use the machines wisely.

From VAULT OF THE AGES by Poul Anderson (1952)


"Immortality" means being partially or fully immune to dying from old age. You can still die from starvation, being blown out an airlock with no spacesuit, or being drilled between the eyes by a laser rifle.

"Invulnerability" on the other hand is being remarkably difficult to kill with clubs, swords, or firearms. Having a body composed of diamond, Wolverine-levels of regeneration, resurrection like Count Dracula, that sort of thing.

Having one of these abilities does not necessarily mean you have the other. TV Tropes calls having both Complete Immortality.

Immortality is a perennial favorite, since practically nobody wants to die. I'm not kidding. The concept dates back at least to the The Epic of Gilgamesh (circa 2100 BCE) the earliest surviving great work of literature.

The techniques vary, some are from machines, some are from exotic drugs.

"I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying."
— Woody Allen

Yes, we don't live forever. People and animals change as they age, and eventually catch disease and die.

Eternal life is ingrained in the collective human consciousness, having been present in literature and myths for as long as they've been around. Literally. The Epic of Gilgamesh (the oldest heroic epic known to the modern world) is, in large part, about the titular character's search for a way to live forever.

Of course, having been around for so long, Our Immortality Is Different, and comes in several flavours. These tropes are not mutually exclusive; there's plenty of room for overlap.


For general tropes relating to immortality, see This Index Will Live Forever.


Apparently most scientists assume that eternal life is impossible for fundamental physical and mathematical reasons, which have been made explicit by James S. Hayes. (In "Technological Routes to Immortality," The Scientist Speculates, Basic Books, 1962.) However, I think Prof. Hayes is wrong, both in his reasons for giving up on unlimited life in the full and in the limited substitute he suggests.

He says, first, that if there is any chance at all of accidental death in a normal life span, then in the long run death is certain; second, that even if fatal accidents were somehow completely eliminated, any birth rate, however small, would eventually result in population pressures that even emigration at the speed of light could not relieve; third, that in any case an immortal could not retain all his memories, since the physical storage requirement would eventually bring the day when a solid sphere of organized matter expanding at the velocity of light would not he adequate.

He then suggests that the accident problem be met by sharing one's identity with several others in several bodies, and the storage problem by culling memories periodically to keep only those most valued: "Since personal identity, like life itself, clearly consists of an ordered structure of information, a 'message,' and since messages can be replicated indefinitely many times, there is no reason why any one personal identity could not be simultaneously made available to several brains and be said to inhabit simultaneously many bodies… By the use of many bodies the probability of the accidental extinction of a personal identity can be made as small as we please. A time may come when almost every person one meets will have at least some part of his identity in common with oneself. Under these conditions the death of a body would not be a reason for grief, as now death is a reason for grief."

Perhaps we might not object too strongly to periodic weeding out of excess baggage in our memories, since selection and loss occur routinely in our ordinary lives anyway, willynilly. But few, I imagine, will agree that personal identity "clearly" (!) consists of an "ordered structure of information." Elsewhere (in The Prospect of Immortality, Doubleday, 1964) I have considered the problem of identity in chapter length and concluded that it is very far from solved. It will suffice here to point out, in Prof. Hayes's own words, what most people will consider a reductio ad absurdum: "If identity resides in ordered information, the distinction between the metaphorical immortality of a man in his work and his literal personal immortality is one of quantity rather than (or as the Marxists would say, transforming into) one of quality. It is merely a matter of a difference of a few orders of magnitude in the amount of information transmitted."

Rejecting his solution, we must find loopholes in his mathematics, and then a way to crawl through the loopholes.

The first is not difficult, because his arithmetic is based on a false premise, viz., that the probability of death in a year (say) must have a lower bound. For non-mathematical readers we can illustrate the point, and also illuminate an old riddle, by explaining Zeno's Paradox.

Zeno asked how can I get from here to there? Obviously, I must first cover half the distance, and to do that I must first cover ¼ the distance, etc.; the journey may be mentally broken down into an infinite number of finite segments, each requiring finite time; since the sum of an infinite number of nonzero intervals is infinite — is it not? — infinite time must be required to move any distance.

The answer is that the sum of an infinite number of non-zero quantities is not necessarily infinite. (This is Obviously so, since a two-inch line can be divided into an infinite number of segments, but the total of those segments is still two inches, not infinity. The sum ½ + ½ + ½… is infinite; the sum ½ + ⅓ + ¼… is infinite; but the sum ½ + ¼ + ⅛ = 1. The sum of an infinite series can be finite, if the terms of the series diminish fast enough.

Now we see how, in principle, Hayes' second and third obstacles can be overcome. We need never give up breeding altogether (although it will not be required for evolution); we need only reduce the rate of reproduction fast enough, indefinitely, without ever reaching zero. And we need sacrifice no memories (although we will have plenty to spare. We need only regulate their rate of accumulation. Note carefully that we do not even have to acquire memories more slowly — only more slowly as a percentage increment per unit time per unit volume of space. The annual percentage growth in brain tissue will have to decrease, but not the tonnage.

Now, a reader of decent sensibilities will be stunned by the word "tonnage." Tons of brain tissue? Of course, there is a certain apparently irreducible minimum amount of matter, in mass and volume, required to store a unit of information, and if we jettison no memories, eventually we must become gigantic. Even storing "our" memories in a separate mechanical store or computer, plugged in at will, cannot avoid giantism, for several reasons. In any case, we do not want to avoid giantism — it is our salvation with respect to the accidental death bogey.

There is a certain risk of catastrophe per year per cubic yard, and we can hardly expect to keep reducing this risk fast enough, forever; hence any ordinary individual must expect a fatal accident sooner or later. But a society, if it spreads out fast enough, can have a nonzero probability of infinite life.

Can an individual do the same?

Certainly! To begin with, we may think of ourselves as located at a point in space. But we are not: each of us occupies an appreciable volume, and can sacrifice considerable material without disaster. For example, rays from radioactive elements constantly damage or kill cells of our bodies — thousands daily — but we replace them and carry on, and in fact do not even notice it.

Of course, it is absurd to think we can just grow huge and keep this up indefinitely. Neither can we stomach the notion of submerging ourselves in a "hive" organism, with individuals playing the role of cells in a super-being; we do not want to he reduced to the status of bees or ants or anything similar. The answer is that we will develop a new type of body, the parts of which will not be physically glued together.

It is simply a matter of communication. The hemispheres of a brain, for example, in principle ought to he capable of integrations by wires, or even radio, rather than nerves; and the same thing is true of smaller components. We must envisage a race of titans, each multicorporeal, his body divided into myriad components attenuated over a large and increasing volume of space, integrated by something like radio waves. If a star goes nova, only a few planets may be lost — a trifle, a toenail.

As always, there will be a price.

In particular, the giants will live slowly, of necessity. If you are spread over a trillion cubic light-years, and your nervous system signals from one part of you to another at the speed of light, it will take you a long while to think and act. It is interesting to speculate, however, that this may explain the mysterious absence of emissaries from higher civilizations: any civilization much beyond the present human stage enters the macro-cosmic phase and is completely cut of touch.

In addition to size and slowness, the giants might have another bizarre quality: intermingling of bodies. If the purpose of giantism is immortality, avoiding catastrophe by having one's parts scattered over immense volumes, any small volume (say a planet) would not have to be reserved for a single individual. Thus a galaxy, say, might support billions of individuals, each one scattered onto billions of planets and each planet supporting parts of billions of different people.

People? Beings, rather. Or even gods. They could hardly be much like ourselves, whose psychology and culture are strongly dependent on the physical character of our bodies. Their lives would not necessarily be entirely mental, but they would indeed be strange. They could not stand, sit, walk, talk or even have a definite location in any easily understood sense.

An obvious nasty conjecture is that the giants are already in our region of space, and in fact we, all unwitting, are their "cells"; that our organization, from our point of view, is inefficient and often unpleasant may interest them not at all.

An even nastier conjecture is that we are not yet cells, but will shortly be taken over for that purpose, when we reach an appropriate stage of development. But "they" would hardly work in such a sloppy manner, nor use fully self-conscious cells.


      It was to this point that Chris returned after his upsetting argument with Piggy. “Sergeant, the other day you said that the Mayor was killing himself with overwork. But the City Fathers told me he's several centuries old. On the drugs, he ought to live forever, isn't that so?"
     "Absolutely not," Anderson said emphatically: "Nobody can live forever. Sooner or later, there'd be an accident, for one thing. And strictly speaking, the drugs aren't a ‘cure' for death anyhow. Do you know how they work?”
     "No," Chris admitted. "School hasn't covered them yet."

     "Well. the memory banks can give you the details—I’ve probably forgotten most of them. But generally. there are several antiagathics, and each one does a different job. The main one, ascomycin, stirs up a kind of tissue in the body called the reticuloendothelial system—the white blood corpuscles are a part of it—to give you what's called ‘nonspecific immunity.‘ What that means is that for about the next seventy years, you can't catch any infectious disease. At the end of that time you get another shot, and so on. The stuff isn't an antibiotic, as the name suggests. but an endotoxin fraction—a complex organic sugar called a mannose; it got its name from the fact that it's produced by fermentation, as antibiotics are.
     "Another is TATP — triacetyltriparanoi. What this does is inhibit the synthesis in the body of a fatty stuff called cholesterol; otherwise it collects in the arteries and causes strokes, apopiexy, high blood pressure and so on. This drug has to be taken every day, because the body goes right on trying to make cholesterol every day."
     "Doesn't that mean that it's good for something?" Chris objected tentatively.
     "Cholesterol? Sure it is. It’s absolutely essential in the development of a fetus, so women have to lay off TATP while they're carrying a child. But it's of no use to men—and men are far more susceptible to circulatory diseases than women.
     “There are still two more anti-agathics in use now, but they're minor; one, for instance, blocks the synthesis of the hormone of sleep, which again is essential in pregnancy but a thundering nuisance otherwise; that one was originally found in the blood of ruminant animals like cows, whose plumbing is so defective that they'd die if they lay down. "
     "You mean you never sleep?”
     "Haven't got the time for it." Anderson said gravely. "Or the need any longer. thank goodness. But ascomycin and TATP between them prevent the two underlying major causes of death: heart diseases and infections. If you prevent those alone. you extend the average lifetime by at least two centuries.

     "But death is still inevitable. Chris. If there isn't an accident, there may be cancer. which we can't prevent yet—oh, ascomycin attacks tumors so strongly that cancer doesn't kill people any longer, in fact the drug even offers quite a lot of protection against hard radiation; but cancer can still make life so agonizing that death is the only humane treatment. Or a man can die of starvation, or of being unable to get the anti-agathics. Or he can die of a bullet—or of overwork. We live long lives in the cities. sure: but more is no such thing as immortality. It's as mythical as the unicorn. Not even the universe itself is going to last forever."

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

Problems With Immortality

But the invention of any new technique of prolonging lifespan is guaranteed to create major problems in the society and political power structure.

For one thing, unless you pass laws about term limits and maximum age of political office, you've suddenly got a gerontocracy on your hands.

For another, if the lifespan lengthens to past about 500 years or so, you'd better limit the number of children allowed to a family or overpopulation will make a reappearance. Once you have death control you have to have birth control or you'll be standing on Zanzibar. Logically, the reason any species has the ability to procreate is because they are mortal. Otherwise the species would go extinct. Remove the mortality and you remove the need for procreation.

Naturally, this becomes less acute if immortality is not for everyone, but just for a privileged few. Even if that spoil-sport Immanual Kant says it is immoral to do something that is only bad if everybody does it.

TV Tropes calls this the Immortal Procreation Clause: The fertility of a species is inversely proportional to its lifespan. Thus, as a species approaches immortality, their birth rate approaches zero. This can be the result of natural infertility, or because they don't want to be up to their eyebrows in squalling babies so contraception is employed.

On a broader level there is the problem that reducing the birth rate also reduces the evolution rate of the species. No children, no evolution. Keeping in mind that the invention of modern medicine has already put a damper on evolution.

There are other problems with immortality, over and above the literary motive of saying it is just plain immoral for some reason or another.

A couple of time the science fiction author wanted to make the immorality rather stark black-and-white. The immortalty treatment requires the death of another person (sometimes of an alien species but still...). Stories include Ben Bova's Stars, Won't You Hide Me? and the Babylon 5 episode Deathwalker.

It has often been noted that in society "the rich get richer." At least nowadays the super rich eventually die so their wealth is divided among the children. But an immortal rich person is just going to keep getting richer. The same goes for a politically powerful immortal. They keep getting to be more powerful and are never removed by death (well natural death at any rate, I'm sure the descendants will be busy hiring assasins).

In "The Martyr" by Alan E Nourse the invention of immortality puts the breaks on progress. They can only give the treatment to 500 carefully selected people each year, but after a couple of decades the effect is quite noticeable. The starship project stalls because there is no motivation to get things done in a timely fashion. Since each treatment adds another sixty years to your life, why not spend yet another year on starship testing just to be absolutely sure? And the politicians start becoming permanent fixtures. With each decade they just add to their repertoire of dirty political tricks, new novice politicians don't stand a chance. Stagnation.

The "lack of pressure" drawback is also featured in Between The Strokes Of Night by Charles Sheffield, in chapter 29.

In Isaac Asimov's The Naked Sun the Spacers have a lifespan of 400 years or so. They become hypercautious and terrified of disease, since they have so many more years to lose than a filthy Earthman with their three-score and ten. Spacers are also unbelievably conservative and resistant to change.

In many science fiction stories the supreme enemy of an immortal being is boredom. After ten-thousand years or so it is almost impossible for an immortal to find anything new, or even anything they've only encountered five hundred times before. In The Lost Worlds of 2001 Arthur C. Clarke said "There were few things that an immortal welcomed and valued more greatly than surprise; when there was none left in the universe, it would be time to die." This is explored in Raymond Z. Gallun's The Eden Cycle and Michael Moorcock's Dancers at the End of Time sequence where the protagonists must go to extreme and absurd lengths to keep ennui at bay.

In the role playing game The Burning Wheel, the Elves are immortal. As a consequence they are elegiac, tragic, and constantly grief-stricken. After all, the longer you live, the larger the number of friends you have seen die (generally in combat). Us older people have experienced a mild version of this: the older you get, the more of your beloved TV and movie actors you loved from childhood depart for that big silver screen in the sky. Especially in the year 2016.

In the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End Captain Teague tells Jack Sparrow: "It's not just about living forever, Jackie. The trick is living with yourself forever."

In Glen Cook's The Dragon Never Sleeps people periodically make brain recordings as a backup. If they are killed, a new cloned body can be quickly warmed up and impressed with the latest recording for an instant resurrection. Sort of like playing a computer role playing game and saving the game periodically in case your player character unexpectedly dies. In fact, if the body of the dear departed has a brain that is not too damaged, it can be scanned to proved a back up more recent than the last brain recording.

However, since the powerful Houses in the novel are about as peaceful and innocent as the ones in The Game of Thrones, assassination is commonplace. So much so that a specialized weapon was developed: the skull-splitter. It fires a bullet of compressed metallic sodium which will totally fry the victim's brain beyond all hope of scanning. In other words is it a weapon specifically optimized to screw up the target's resurrection. Granted, it only eliminates the person's memories between now and the last backup recording, but that can be useful in carefully crafted political plots.

But immortality is not all bad. It comes in handy with slower-than-light space travel. Or even faster-than-light, the "anti-agathic" immortality drugs of James Blish's Cities In Flight series were developed because star travel at 20c still consumes a huge chunk of one's lifespan. In Robert Forward's Rocheworld, the drug No-Die slows the aging process to one-fourth the normal rate. Unfortunately it temporarily lowers intelligence by roughly the same factor. It is needed because the STL laser light-sail is going to take 42 years to fly to Barnard's Star, and a crew of retirement-age astronauts would do an exceedingly poor job of exploration.

Science fiction authors are also fond of teasing the reader about immortality. In Whatever Happened to Corporal Cuckoo? by Gerald Kersh the protagonist meets the eponymous Cuckoo who was born in 1507. He suffered a severe head trauma, and was treated by mad doctor Ambroise Paré with The Digestive (a concoction of oil of roses, honey, turpentine, and egg whites). This makes Cuckoo both immortal and invulnerable. Cuckoo wants to buy a farm to produce the needed ingredients so he can make a fortune selling The Digestive.

The protagonist torpeodes Cuckoo's plan by pointing out the wide variations in bee honey, eggs, et al. The chances of recreating the formula by using such organic ingredients is zilch.


      “Finding Laroo might well be impossible,” Krega warned. “Cerberus has the Warden organism, but it is a mutated strain. More of this will be explained on orientation, but you must trust to the fact that bodies are as interchangeable as clothes on Cerberus.”

     “At last count there were approximately 18,700,000 people on Cerberus,” Krega went on. “This is not a large population, but it has a very high growth rate. There are more jobs and space than people even now. Since the advent of Laroo’s rule the population has been expanding at a rate that almost doubles it every twenty years or so. We believe that only part of this population push is economic, though. Much of it, we think, is because, on a world of body switchers, the potential for immortality exists if there is a constant and available supply of young bodies. Laroo seems to have some control over this process, which is the ultimate political leverage. Naturally, this also means that, short of being killed, Laroo could literally rule forever.

     “As you can see, it is virtually impossible for anyone to masquerade as someone else, since it is a crime not to report a body change within eight hours of its occurrence.” She paused for a moment, then added, “For a society founded by what the Confederacy calls criminals, Cerberus has probably the most crime-free civilization in man’s history.”

     I could see that this thought disturbed some of the others, and it disturbed me to an extent, too. In the most literal sense of the word, this was probably the most totalitarian society ever built. Not that crime here was impossible—the society was computer-dependent, and anything computer-dependent could be manipulated. But the system had few weak spots, and the ultimate penalty of death for crimes was even more terrifying here, in a society where it might be possible to move from body to body and stay young—if there was a supply of bodies, and if the government let you.

     Were there old people here? I wondered. And if not, where did all the new, fresh bodies come from?

     “Why this taboo on talking about kids, though?”

     She looked at me strangely. “Right off the boat, aren’t you? Hell, think about it. Ever seen any old people?"

     “No. I assume the bodies wind up on mines someplace.”

     She nodded. “You got it. And where do the new bodies come from? A certain percentage come from us, that’s where (her job is being a baby factory). A baby a year, every year, and only a small population growth. It’s tough. They take most of ’em away from us after only a year—a real heart-breaker, too. Most of us send ’em all away to government child-care centers so we don’t have to go through any more pain than we have to. Have ‘em, nurse ’em, then forget ’em. Some get hardened to it, but some just get sick of it or fed up. You’re trapped, though, and you just keep at it until the docs say you gotta stop. Then you get a fresh young body if you have done well and made your life quota.”

     I had to admit it was sounding less and less pleasant. I was beginning to see why Laroo’s assumption of power had been accompanied by a population increase all out of proportion to the numbers. Although the system probably predated him, he would order stepped-up life quotas strictly out of paranoia. The top leadership’s one nightmare would be a declining birthrate.

     “Surely you can quit. A simple operation—”

     She laughed derisively. “Sure. And forget all about being reborn into a new body. Because you lack any useful skills, there’s only the dirtiest labor jobs to make any sort of a living, and that would be only if they let you. Most likely you’d just not find a job, be declared a vagrant, and then it’s a one-way trip to the mines, or maybe they’d just knock you off. Those mines are mostly automated—most folks don’t think too many people are really sent anywhere.”

     More information to file, but the subject was becoming increasingly unpleasant.

     The bitterness and frustration in her voice was very real, and for the first time I understood Otah’s attitude and the attitude of most Cerberans toward both the mothers and the subject of children. Nobody liked to think of children, since they realized that was where their new bodies would come from. Having once been young themselves, they really didn’t like to think they were robbing some kid of a lifetime, advancing him or her from fifteen to forty-five in one step, perhaps condemning him or her to death or forced labor on some airless moon. They knew—but they wanted to live, wanted their new bodies, and so they just didn’t talk about it, tried not to think about it, on the grounds that facts ignored were not facts at all. Seeing those who bore those children brought up all the guilt, so they were treated in the same way as people with some horrible disease. And they did carry such a plague—it was called conscience.

     What this told me was that they had already sold their souls. Sold them to Wagant Laroo. The population of Cerberus took on a whole new light for me that day, there in the bright sunshine and salt air. I remembered old horror stories of vampires—the living dead who drank the blood of the living to survive, to be immortal. And that’s what Cerberus really was—a planet of vampires.

     You’re lucky to be sent to Cerberus. Here you might live forever!

     Yeah, in absolute slavery to a government that could grant you eternal life—at the cost of an innocent child’s life—or take it away.

     “I don’t understand why they don’t just invest in cloning,” I told her. “They would still control the bodies and thus the people.”

     “They can’t,” she told me. “The Warden organism can’t cope with a clone in the early stages. The natural way’s the only way on any of the Diamond worlds.”

     Well, so much for the easy way out, I told myself. Still, there had to be better ways than this. Better managed with less heartbreak. I took a fresh look at Sanda Tyne. Tragic figure, perhaps, but the ultimate vampire herself.

     “I would think the lure of eternal life wouldn’t be enough for some people,” I noted. “Some might prefer death.”

     “Not outside the motherhood,” she responded. “And inside, yes, you’re right. But they monitor us very carefully for signs of depression and suicidal tendencies. Almost nobody really goes through with it—maybe two or three a year. The rest—well, I guess the will to live is too strong. And if you try it and don’t make it, they can put you through the ringer. You don’t have to have much of a brain to do what we do. They take you into a little room, point a little laser probe here”—she pointed to her forehead—“and zap! You walk around with this nice little smile on your face and you don’t do or think of nothin’, but you can still have babies.” She shivered. “I think I’d rather die than that—but you see? The penalty for not dyin’ is so much worse.”

     What a cheery afternoon I’m having, I thought sourly. Still, I truly understood and sympathized with Sanda and the others like her. There were better ways, I felt sure. Not less cruel, perhaps, to some of the children, for there would be a revolution here if the new bodies for old potential was destroyed, but at least for the people like Sanda. A technological world should allow mothers to be anything they wanted as well, and it should be able to meet its need not only to grow but also to replace. There was a simple system that would at least put the responsibility where it belonged.

     Everyone could be forced to bear his own replacement. Then he alone would have the option of killing his offspring or himself in the normal way. And, with body switching, assuming sterility was ended, everyone could bear his own replacement. That it was the only fair way. It Wouldn’t end cruelty to the kids who got stuck as replacements, but far fewer would take that option—and nobody could sweep the responsibility under a mental rug.

     This body-switching business sounded great at the beginning, but I was beginning now to see it for what it was —a disease. A disease that was population-wide and required a totalitarian system to maintain.

From CERBERUS: A WOLF IN THE FOLD by Jack Chalker (1982)

Both men recognize the epithet. They interogate Na'toth, who claims the victim is Jha'Dur, more commonly known as Deathwalker, a notorious mass murderer and diabolical medical researcher who murdered her grandfather, among many others. Na'Toth's family has taken a bloodoath against her grandfather's killer. Sinclair is skeptical that the victim can be the same person, as the Dilgar War (where Deathwalker gained her infamy) was over thirty years earlier—the real Deathwalker would have to be an old woman, not the middle aged woman Na'Toth attacked. Nevertheless, Na'Toth insists she made no error.

Sinclair checks on the victim in Medlab. Dr. Franklin reports that she is healing well--and at a remarkable rate. Sinclair recognizes her species as Dilgar, despite the common belief that the entire Dilgar race was wiped out when their sun went nova at the end of the Dilgar War. This fact, coupled with both archival images as well as a Dilgar uniform Garibaldi finds aboard her ship suggest she is in fact Jha'dur, the Deathwalker. Garibaldi also recovers an elixir from the ship, one that Sinclair orders Franklin to investigate.

The woman finally awakens in Medlab. She angrily retrieves the elixir from Franklin (calling it her "life's work") and demands to meet with Sinclair.

Once in Medlab, Sinclair speaks to the woman privately. She confirms her identity as Jha'dur "Deathwalker." When he asks how she can be so young and vital, she explains that the elixir is an antiagapic, a serum that halts the aging process and makes the user immune to all diseases. She declares that with the help of the Earth Alliance, she will bring it to all corners of the galaxy.

As she prepares to leave, Jha'Dur is approached by Sinclair, who asks why she would be willing to give Earth such a miracle cure when Earth was responsible for turning the tide of the Dilgar's invasion. Jha'Dur explains that her race is gone and both her name and her people's are cursed throughout the galaxy—but her discovery will ensure that this will not remain their legacy.

Once again, Jha'Dur prepares to leave the station. She explains the truth about her formula: a key ingredient cannot be synthesized, but must be taken from a living being. In other words, for one person to live forever, another must die. She predicts this will cause humanity and every other race to "fall on one another like wolves," and the genocide that will result will be the true testament to her work. Her legacy will be to turn those who hate the Dilgar into worse criminals than they were.

Babylon 5 episode DEATHWALKER

      The Final Battle had been lost. On a million million planets across the galaxy-studded universe, mankind had been blasted into defeat and annihilation. The Others had returned from across the edge of the observable world, just as man had always feared. They had returned and ruthlessly exterminated the race from Earth.
     The Final Battle, from which Holman was fleeing, had been fought near an exploded galaxy billions of light-years from the Milky Way and Earth. There, with the ghastly bluish glare of uncountable shattered stars as a backdrop, the once-mighty fleets of mankind had been arrayed. Mortals and Immortals alike, men drew themselves up to face the implacable Others.
     The enemy won. Not easily, but completely. Mankind was crushed, totally. A few fleeing men in a few battered ships was all that remained. Even the Immortals, Holman thought wryly, had not escaped. The Others had taken special care to make certain that they were definitely killed.

     “And all you did was watch?”
     We tried to warn you from time to time. We tried to advise you. But the warnings, the contacts, the glimpses of the future that we gave you were always ignored or derided. So you boiled out into space for the second time, and met other societies at your own level of understanding — aggressive, proud, fearful. And like the children you are, you fought endlessly.
     “But the Others… what about them?”
     They are your punishment.
     “Punishment? For what? Because we fought wars?”

     No. For stealing immortality.
     “Stealing immortality? We worked for it. We learned how to make humans immortal. Some sort of chemicals. We were going to immortalize the whole race… I could’ve become immortal. Immortal. But they couldn’t stand that… the Others. They attacked us.”
     He sensed a disapproving shake of the head.
     “It’s true,” Holman insisted. “They were afraid of how powerful we would become once we were all immortal. So they attacked us while they still could. Just as they had done a million years earlier. They destroyed Earth’s first interstellar civilization, and tried to finish us permanently. They even caused Ice Ages on Earth to make sure none of us would survive. But we lived through it and went back to the stars. So they hit us again. They wiped us out. Good God, for all I know I’m the last human being in the whole universe.”

     Your knowledge of the truth is imperfect. Mankind could have achieved immortality in time. Most races evolve that way eventually. But you were impatient. You stole immortality.
     “Because we did it artificially, with chemicals. That’s stealing it?”
     Because the chemicals that gave you immortality came from the bodies of the race you called the Flower People. And to take the chemicals, it was necessary to kill individuals of that race.
     Holman’s eyes widened. “What?”
     For every human made immortal, one of the Flower Folk had to die.
     “We killed them? Those harmless little…” His voice trailed off.
     To achieve racial immortality for mankind, it would have been necessary to perform racial murder on the Flower Folk.
     Holman heard the words, but his mind was numb, trying to shut down tight on itself and squeeze out reality.
     That is why the Others struck. That is why they had attacked you earlier, during your first expansion among the stars. You had found another race, with the same chemical of immortality. You were taking them into your laboratories and methodically murdering them. The Others stopped you then. But they took pity on you, and let a few survivors remain on Earth. They caused your Ice Ages as a kindness, to speed your development back into civilization, not to hinder you. They hoped you might evolve into a better species. But when the opportunity for immortality came your way once more, you seized it, regardless of the cost, heedless of your own ethical standards. It became necessary to extinguish you, the Others decided.

From STARS, WON'T YOU HIDE ME? by Ben Bova (1966)

      Remontoire watched the last few members of the Closed Council take their seats around the tiered inner surface of the privy chamber. A number of the very old were still able to make their own way to their seats, but the majority were aided by servitors, exoskeletons or black clouds of thumb-sized drones. A few were so near the end of physical life that they had nearly abandoned the flesh entirely. They came in as heads, hooked up to spiderlike mobility prostheses. One or two were massively swollen brains so full of machinery that they could no longer be housed in skulls. The brains rode inside transparent fluid-filled domes dense with throbbing support machinery. They were the most extreme Conjoined, and by this stage most of their conscious activity would have devolved into the distributed web of greater Conjoiner thought. Each retained their brain like a family unwilling to demolish a crumbling mansion even though they hardly ever lived in it.

From REVELATION SPACE by Alastair Reynolds (2000)

(ed note: In this story, the galactic emperor is immortal. Which sounds like it would be dangerously easy to wind up with an empire ruled eternally by an undying tyrant. But luckily there is an unplanned safeguard.

The galactic emperor rules justly and with due concern for all those affected by his decisions. Because if not, the emperor dies.

You see every few decades, the emperor undergoes immortality treatments. These prevent the emperor from dying from old age. But there is a side effect. During the treatment, the emperor sees every single thing they have done in their life. With intense recall.

If the emperor has made too many decisions which were without empathy, which were cruel to those under the emperor's rule, the replay of those memories will kill him.)

". . . The Just, the All-powerful, the All-knowing, His Celestial Majesty, Tate the First!"

He sat down.

Nobody moved anywhere. This was no ordinary function, where he granted audiences or issued the decrees which could alter the destiny of whole stellar systems. This was the time when he had to prove his fitness to rule, or die. In utter silence he pressed one of the two studs set in the arm of his throne, and tried to relax as golden bands of beautifully worked metal closed around his limbs, chest, and head, holding him rigid.

When given before the age of forty and renewed every twenty years, the Immortality Treatment prevented the disease of senility and death from occurring in life based on the carbon series of compounds—which meant practically all forms of life. There were thousands of dogs, cats, and monkeys to prove that it worked. But in beings of higher intelligence—human or otherwise—it did not work at all, unless the being in question was mentally very, very tough.

The radiation which stimulated the regenerative centers produced other effects as well, some of them good, others quite fatally bad. The treatment increased the I.Q., and gave to the mind a perfect, eidetic memory. It also, for the few seconds duration of the treatment, so intensified the effects of what had come to be called the "area of conscience" that any being having sufficient intelligence to base his actions on a moral code had to take three seconds of the most frightful psychological torture ever known. He had to live with the cruel, debased, and utterly nauseous creature that was himself.

Many preferred to die rather than take three seconds of it. Most had no such choice—their life force was obliterated with the first, savage blast of self-knowledge.

This secondary effect of the treatment was experienced in a complete reliving of the past, with each incident diamond-sharp in visual, auditory, and tactile sense recall. But not only that. The mind was given a terrifying insight into the end results of that being's most trivial-seeming actions. Unthinking words or gestures made over the years and forgotten, when blown up by the triple stimulus of perfect memory, increased I.Q., and a hypersensitive "conscience" became lethal as a suicide's bullets. The mind just could not take such an overwhelming blast of self-guilt, even for three seconds, so it, and the body containing it, died.

Only one person had successfully undergone the Immortality Treatment.

Tate, though he had lived—with thirty-seven previous treatments—for seven hundred and sixty-eight years, still took only three seconds. And there was no blurring or telescoping of events. Each incident was complete, and though it occupied only microseconds of time, each bore its charge of guilt potential.

From DYNASTY OF ONE by James White (1955)

      ‘It’s not as simple as that. What I’m telling you now I’ve discovered slowly—usually when I’ve been dreaming or slightly drunk. You may say that invalidates the evidence, but I don’t think so. At first it was the only way I could break through the barrier that separates me from Omega—I’ll tell you later why I’ve called him that. But now there aren’t any obstacles: I know he’s there all the time, waiting for me to let down my guard. Night and day, drunk or sober, I’m conscious of his presence. At times like this he’s quiescent, watching me out of the corner of his eye. My only hope is that he’ll grow tired of waiting, and go in search of some other victim.’
     Connolly’s voice, calm until now, suddenly came near to breaking.
     ‘Try and imagine the horror of that discovery: the effect of learning that every act, every thought or desire that flitted through your mind was being watched and shared by another being. It meant, of course, the end of all normal life for me. I had to leave Ruth and I couldn’t tell her why. Then, to make matters worse, Maude came chasing after me. She wouldn’t leave me alone, and bombarded me with letters and phone calls. It was hell. I couldn’t fight both of them, so I ran away. And I thought that on Syrene, of all places, he would find enough to interest him without bothering me.’

     ‘Now I understand,’ said Pearson softly. ‘So that’s what he’s after. A kind of telepathic Peeping Tom—no longer content with mere watching….’
     ‘I suppose you’re humouring me,’ said Connolly, without resentment. ‘But I don’t mind, and you’ve summed it up pretty accurately, as you usually do. It was quite a while before I realised what his game was. Once the first shock had worn off, I tried to analyse the position logically. I thought backward from that first moment of recognition, and in the end I knew that it wasn’t a sudden invasion of my mind. He’d been with me for years, so well hidden that I’d never guessed it. I expect you’ll laugh at this, knowing me as you do. But I’ve never been altogether at ease with a woman, even when I’ve been making love to her, and now I know the reason. Omega has always been there, sharing my emotions, gloating over the passions he can no longer experience in his body.

     ‘The only way I kept my control was by fighting back, trying to come to grips with him and to understand what he was. And in the end I succeeded. He’s a long way away and there must be some limit to his powers. Perhaps that first contact was an accident, though I’m not sure.
     ‘What I’ve told you already, Jack, must be hard enough for you to believe, but it’s nothing to what I’ve got to say now. Yet remember—you agreed that I’m not an imaginative man, and see if you can find a flaw anywhere in this story.

     ‘I don’t know if you’ve read any of the evidence suggesting that telepathy is somehow independent of time. I know that it is. Omega doesn’t belong to our age: he’s somewhere in the future, immensely far ahead of us. For a while I thought he must be one of the last men—that’s why I gave him his name. But now I’m not sure; perhaps he belongs to an age when there are a myriad different races of man, scattered all over the universe—some still ascending, others sinking into decay. His people, wherever and whenever they may be, have reached the heights and fallen from them into the depths the beasts can never know. There’s a sense of evil about him, Jack—the real evil that most of us never meet in all our lives. Yet sometimes I feel almost sorry for him, because I know what has made him the thing he is.
     ‘Have you ever wondered, Jack, what the human race will do when science has discovered everything, when there are no more worlds to be explored, when all the stars have given up their secrets? Omega is one of the answers. I hope he’s not the only one, for if so everything we’ve striven for is in vain. I hope that he and his race are an isolated cancer in a still healthy universe, but I can never be sure.
     ‘They have pampered their bodies until they are useless, and too late they have discovered their mistake. Perhaps they have thought, as some men have thought, that they could live by intellect alone. And perhaps they are immortal, and that must be their real damnation. Through the ages their minds have been corroding in their feeble bodies, seeking some release from their intolerable boredom. They have found it at last in the only way they can, by sending back their minds to an earlier, more virile age, and becoming parasites on the emotions of others.
     ‘I wonder how many of them there are? Perhaps they explain all cases of what used to be called possession. How they must have ransacked the past to assuage their hunger! Can’t you picture them, flocking like carrion crows around the decaying Roman Empire, jostling one another for the minds of Nero and Caligula and Tiberius? Perhaps Omega failed to get those richer prizes. Or perhaps he hasn’t much choice and must take whatever mind he can contact in any age, transferring from that to the next whenever he has the chance.

     ‘It was only slowly, of course, that I worked all this out. I think it adds to his enjoyment to know that I’m aware of his presence. I think he’s deliberately helping—breaking down his side of the barrier. For in the end, I was able to see him.’
     Connolly broke off. Looking around, Pearson saw that they were no longer alone on the hilltop. A young couple, hand in hand, were coming up the road toward the crucifix. Each had the physical beauty so common and so cheap among the islanders. They were oblivious to the night around them and to any spectators, and went past without the least sign of recognition. There was a bitter smile on Connolly’s lips as he watched them go.
     ‘I suppose I should be ashamed of this, but I was wishing then that he’d leave me and go after that boy. But he won’t; though I’ve refused to play his game any more, he’s staying to see what happens.’
     ‘You were going to tell me what he’s like,’ said Pearson, annoyed at the interruption. Connolly lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply before replying.

     ‘Can you imagine a room without walls? He’s in a kind of hollow, egg-shaped space—surrounded by blue mist that always seems to be twisting and turning, but never changes its position. There’s no entrance or exit—and no gravity, unless he’s learned to defy it. Because he floats in the centre, and around him is a circle of short, fluted cylinders, turning slowly in the air. I think they must be machines of some kind, obeying his will. And once there was a large oval hanging beside him, with perfectly human, beautifully formed arms coming from it. It could only have been a robot, yet those hands and fingers seemed alive. They were feeding and massaging him, treating him like a baby. It was horrible….
     ‘Have you ever seen a lemur or a spectral tarsier? He’s rather like that—a nightmare travesty of mankind, with huge malevolent eyes. And this is strange—it’s not the way one had imagined evolution going—he’s covered with a fine layer of fur, as blue as the room in which he lives. Every time I’ve seen him he’s been in the same position, half curled up like a sleeping baby. I think his legs have completely atrophied; perhaps his arms as well. Only his brain is still active, hunting up and down the ages for its prey.
     ‘And now you know why there was nothing you or anyone else could do. Your psychiatrists might cure me if I was insane, but the science that can deal with Omega hasn’t been invented yet.’

     ‘Your story’s as logical as mine, but neither of us can convince the other. If you’re right, then in time I may return to “normal”. You can’t imagine how real Omega is to me. He’s more real than you are: if I close my eyes you’re gone, but he’s still there. I wish I knew what he was waiting for! I’ve left my old life behind; he knows I won’t go back to it while he’s there. So what’s he got to gain by hanging on?’ He turned to Pearson with a feverish eagerness. ‘That’s what really frightens me, Jack. He must know what my future is—all my life must be like a book he can dip into where he pleases. So there must still be some experience ahead of me that he’s waiting to savour. Sometimes—sometimes I wonder if it’s my death.’

     He never saw the flash of the gun or heard the feeble but adequate explosion. The world he knew had faded from his sight, and around him now were the fixed yet crawling mists of the blue room. Staring from its centre—as they had stared down the ages at how many others?—were two vast and lidless eyes. They were satiated for the moment, but for the moment only.

From THE PARASITE by Arthur C. Clarke (1953)

      "I'll ask a question, you try to answer it. Between us, we may come up with something. Look, obviously the Norms didn't arrange this because they got the roughest deal of the lot. The Delinks did very little better and, come to think of it, the stinkers didn't rake off any cream, which leaves us with the Geeks. Think it's the Geeks?"
     "No," flatly.
     "Why not?"
     "For the very obvious reason that until six years ago there were no Geeks. This business has been going on for over three centuries."
     Gammon said "Damn!" explosively. "That leaves us with the unpleasant thought that this is the work of outsiders—aliens. Sounds a bit melodramatic."
     "Unfortunately, melodramatic or otherwise, it is the most logical conclusion."

     Gammon's eyes narrowed. "I agree up to a point but there are holes in the theory through which I could drive a brigade of armor-floats in battle formation. Take our invader, call him 'Ugly.' Ugly arrives here with enough gimmicks and telepathic what-have-yous to conquer the entire world in six weeks flat, coffee breaks included. At the end of three hundred years, however, he still appears to be fumbling around trying to figure out what to do next. It doesn't make sense and, on top of this, while wearing himself to death on this divide-and-destroy-when-I-get-around-to-it technique, he permits a new dispensation to arise… an advanced breed of man who might, in the long run, kick him clean off the planet."
     "Or," said Toynbee, softly, "do the final destroying job for him."
     Gammon blanched. "I wish you hadn't brought that up. You're right, of course, too right, and because of it I'm going to have some damn sleepless nights. On the other hand, this easy-plan, long-term credit invasion still doesn't make sense."

     IN THE FORT, Gammon's cigarette twitched at the corner of his mouth as he read through Craig's latest report.
     Finally he put it down. "From a scientific angle this is completely without merit. Every fact mentioned is derived from this group's peculiar talents. I'm inclined to distrust this crystal ball viewpoint."
     Toynbee looked at him. "I have the feeling that you are talking to convince yourself."
     Gammon frowned. "There are occasions when I think we have worked together too damn long. All right, damn you, the report may not be scientific, maybe these Stinkers did just sit around feeling things, but the conclusions are logical."

     Toynbee grinned. "Suppose you summarize—just for a change."
     Gammon smiled twistedly. "As you wish." He tossed across a sheet of paper. "That is what the Stinkers think the invaders looked like. It was drawn by one of them, a man named Miguel."
     Toynbee studied it and shuddered slightly. "I think I'd prefer to sit down with a Stinker." He looked again at the round head with its triangular eyes and curled proboscis. The thing had a barrel body, squat legs and long thin supple arms which almost reached the ground.
     Gammon, watching his expression, said, "Pity it."
     "Pity it!"
     "You heard me. According to what the Stinkers felt, it was a gentle, peace-loving and highly advanced life-form. It came here under duress, bluntly, at gun point. The skeletons we found, some odd hundred thousand, were all that remained of a once thriving civilization."
     Toynbee frowned at him. "You're not making very much sense."
     "Not yet I'm not. Listen, the Stinkers think these unfortunate creatures were carriers for some sort of parasite." He paused and looked at the other directly. "Look, just as a kind of confirmation and assuming the conclusions are correct, could you carry on from there?"
     "You mean draw logical conclusions from the data so far to hand?"

     "Well—" Toynbee frowned. "Assuming these creatures were, as you suggest, parasites,, one must conclude, since they needed carriers, they were comparatively helpless."
     "Go on, you're doing fine."
     "The parasites, then, were the real invaders and they got here using the advanced technology of another life-form. Let's see now, since they were comparatively helpless, they needed that advanced technology both to establish themselves and to construct a hideout and/or hideouts from which they could operate."
     Toynbee paused and paled slightly. "I'm not sure I care for my own logic."
     "Never mind that—I don't care for it either. So far you're bearing out everything Craig has said."
     "Thanks for nothing. Where was I? Oh, yes. Conclusion one. Having established themselves, they then concealed the means of their invasion by the telepathic illusion of a Texas mountain. There is a subsidiary and unpleasant conclusion to be drawn from that. Having played their part, I am quite sure that the carriers did not destroy themselves in a wild orgy of self-loathing. I think they were ordered to destroy themselves, their technology and all clues as to their planet of origin in case, subsequently, that same technology might be used against them or provide a clue as to the whereabouts of the parasites themselves."
     "How do you mean—ordered?"
     "You would bring that one up, wouldn't you? I think the invaders exercised intense telepathic control over their carriers."

     Gammon paled. "If I didn't know otherwise I'd say you read this damn report over my shoulder. Anything else?"
     "One other point, the most frightening of all. The invaders are still here and still taking over. I think, by our standards, they are well-nigh immortal and can afford to take their time."
     Gammon nodded. "It fits and not only fits but confirms the Stinkers' conclusions. I have an uncomfortable feeling, however, drawing on my limited knowledge of parasites, that these things, having sucked us dry of whatever they want, will move on. In a couple of million years, maybe, the one hundred thousand remaining humans will be dumping these creatures on some other unfortunate planet. Whereupon, having carried out all their orders, they will be telepathically forced to destroy themselves."

     "I wish you'd shut up," said Toynbee uneasily. He sighed. "The Stinkers don't know where these parasites are?"
     "No. They are working on it but these flying things in the sky are fouling up the wavelengths or whatever they use."
     "That's neat too," said Toynbee bitterly. "These things sit around in armchairs with their presumed legs crossed and let their mechanical gimmicks divide humanity up for the slaughter. No, that's wrong; they don't want to slaughter us. They want some of us here to use. Not only are they parasites, but sooner or later, they'll want carriers again."
     He rose, abruptly. "Gammon, we've got to find them. If we have to drain the oceans and sift every grain of sand in existence we've got to find them."

     Before he could pause to study them, however, malevolence seemed to strike him with almost physical force and his eyes were drawn to the contents of the room.
     Tanks, row upon row of square transparent tanks, filled to the top with a darkish liquid. Above each tank was a sort of framework and from framework hung…
     Gammon looked again and shuddered. The thing looked like a huge and partly skinned bat, and it hung half in and half out of the liquid. It had no eyes, no wings but its resemblance to a huge bat was unmistakable. The things pulsed slowly and regularly like the throats of toads.
     Gammon turned to the Commander, who was staring almost pop-eyed at the scene.
     "Bring down the Seventh Weapon," he said softly. "Dump it smack in the middle of this lot, set the timing for reasonable evacuation and seal this place up." He looked about him. "God, I'm going to enjoy watching this lot fry. I can feel no pity whatever."
     Five hours later, an area of ground which had once held Fort Knox heaved like the back of a wounded animal. Jets of vapor hissed from sudden fissures and abruptly ignited into five hundred foot geysers of flame. The surface of the earth smoked, became a red crust and crumbled into an ever widening crater.

     "What I don't understand," said Gammon, after broaching his subject, "is what these damn parasites got out of it. They were completely helpless, blind and presumably disinterested in the planet they had conquered. Why did they do it?"
     Craig smiled. "You're almost answering the question yourself but, as it's somewhat involved, I'd better explain."
     He paused to smile at his wife sitting some distance away. "I don't know how these creatures began but presumably they evolved to their present state of outward helplessness. Not that helplessness mattered, since they could always enslave some other unfortunate life-form to take care of their wants."
     "I'm afraid," said Toynbee, "I am unable to perceive any particular elation in hanging upside down in a tank of fluid even if someone does take care of your needs."
     Craig laughed. "I'm afraid you're both missing the point. Our invader, specifically, was not blind, not helpless. He was enjoying every possible physical experience and, at the same time, drinking the most intoxicating wine of all—absolute power."

     They stared at him blankly. Finally Toynbee said, "How?"
     "Through his host, of course. The invader was telepathic. Everything the host experienced the parasite experienced and, if he liked that particular experience, he could do a little mental manipulation to get some more."
     "The invader saw, but through the eyes of his hosts, moved and felt through the same medium and, each time, absorbed a quota of knowledge from the same source."
     "I assume and I can only assume, mind you, that after a time it paled. The invader had run through the whole range of the host's experiences, wearied of that particular world and wanted to move on."
     Craig sighed and shook his head. "The last time that happened, they gave their usual tele-hypnotic orders and the hosts went out to find one for them. Unfortunately they found us and the parasites moved on."

From INVADER ON MY BACK by Philip E. High (1968)

      WELT'S THOUGHTS were interrupted by Bridgeman, his alleged aide.
     Bridgeman placed a pile of reports on the desk, dropped into the nearest chair and scowled at his fingernails. "Damn bad. "Welt didn't answer. He looked at the reports, at Bridgeman, and, suddenly weary, tried to decide which he hated most. Not that he had anything against the man directly, it was just that his very presence set him on edge. The cropped head, the bulging vacuous blue eyes, the short thick neck—after an association of a century and a half you couldn't help hating a man, could you? Bridgeman's nervous pomposity, the "fat" voice, his infuriating habit of clearing his throat noisily in mid-sentence, his inexhaustible repertoire of banalities.
     Welt sighed inwardly. It was the same with everything, wasn't it? Like his last wife, the one before and the one before that. You not only knew what they were going to say but how they were going to say it. You got to know them so well that life became a series of endless and wearisome repetitions. Somehow, suddenly and frighteningly, you were trapped by longevity; you were afraid to die but burdened with living; the years stretched endlessly ahead apparently with no goal.

     He was not alone in this feeling, all of them—that was another thing.
     He had gone to the Supreme about that.

     "You demanded longevity. I gave it to you."
     "Many of us are suffering nervous reactions."
     "Did you, at the time of your demand, inquire as to possible side effects?"
     "No, we had no idea that—"
     "Then the omission was yours, not mine. The subject is closed."

     Welt shivered, recalling many such interviews, and, more as an escape than anything else, he reached for the reports.

From REALITY FORBIDDEN by Philip E. High (1967)

It had been a serious mistake, Dr Bose often thought, to put the United Planets Headquarters on the Moon. Inevitably, Earth tended to dominate the proceedings—as it dominated the landscape beyond the dome. If they had to build here, perhaps they should have gone to the Farside, where that hypnotic disc never shed its rays.

But, of course, it was much too late to change, and in any case there was no real alternative. Whether the colonies liked it or not, Earth would be the cultural and economic overlord of the solar system for centuries to come.

Dr Bose had been born on Earth, and had not emigrated to Mars until he was thirty, so he felt that he could view the political situation fairly dispassionately. He knew now that he would never return to his home planet, even though it was only five hours away by shuttle. At 115, he was in perfect health, but he could not face the reconditioning needed to accustom him to three times the gravity he had enjoyed for most of his life. He was exiled for ever from the world of his birth; not being a sentimental man, this had never depressed him unduly.

What did depress him sometimes was the need for dealing, year after year, with the same familiar faces. The marvels of medicine were all very well—and certainly he had no desire to put back the clock—but there were men around this conference table with whom he had worked for more than half a century. He knew exactly what they would say and how they would vote on any given subject. He wished that, some day, one of them would do something totally unexpected—even something quite crazy.

And probably they felt exactly the same way about him.

From RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA by Arthur C. Clarke (1973)

Decadent Population

Tales of technology turning civilizations into worthless decadent people dates back at least to H. G. Well's The Time Machine (1895), with the pathetic Eloi and brutal Morlocks. Things have only accelerated since then. Some such stories have become quaint, overtaken by events. E. M. Forster's The Machine Stops (1901) has people living in little cubbies, their only activity is using a sort of video conferencing machine to communicate with others. Sounds to me like present day guys living in their mother's basement, doing little else besides trolling Facebook and Twitter.

I remember people predicting the downfall of Western Civilization due to the invention of the TV remote control. Just think about a generation of couch potatos too lazy to get up, walk to the TV set, and change the channel. Actually, such predictions were not far off the mark.


(ed note: Trellises are sort of fractal polymer carbon that Star God races use as disposable packing material. Sort of like hyper-advanced styrofoam packing peanuts. Some aliens covet the stuff for inexplicable alien reasons. Therefore this Star God refuse can be used as a trade item. Our heroes hope to trade some with the Tusk-legs in exchange for some Regrowth Agent to repair their spaceship. So they have arrived at the star system called "Harmoniuos Repose" aka "Rest In Peace" or RIP. "Automation" is a sort of non-sentient ultra-AI used to take care of things.)

Harmonious Repose. An ugly name, thought Ravna. Pham's "light-hearted" translation was worse: Rest In Peace. In the Beyond, almost everything habitable was in use. Civilizations were transient and races faded ... but there were always new people moving up from Below. The result was most often patchwork, polyspecific systems. Young races just up from the Slowness lived uneasily with the remnants of older peoples. According to the ship's library, RIP had been in the Beyond for a long time. It had been continuously inhabited for at least two hundred million years, time for ten thousand species to call it home. The most recent notes showed better than one hundred racial terranes. Even the youngest was the residue of a dozen emigrations. The place should be peaceful to the point of being moribund.

This secondary harbor was not really part of the tusk-leg race's terrane. The inside of the arc was far different from what they had seen on the Skroderiders' first trip. There were no exterior views. Cramped passages wound between irregular walls pocked with dark holes. Insects flew everywhere, often covering parts of the camera balls. To Pham, the place looked filthy.

There was no evidence of the terrane's owners—unless they were the pallid worms that sometimes stuck a featureless head(?) up from a burrow hole. Over his voice link, Blueshell opined that these were very ancient tenants of the RIP system. After a million years, and a hundred transcendent emigrations, the residue might still be sentient, but stranger than anything evolved in the Slow Zone. Such a people would be protected from physical extinction by ancient automation, but they would also be inward turning, totally cautious, absorbed in concerns that were inane by any outside standard. It was the type that most often lusted after trellis work.

From A FIRE UPON THE DEEP by Vernor Vinge (1992)

      Sid Throndyke overrode his respirator to heave a deep sigh.
     "Wow!" he said, flipping to his wife's personal channel. "A tough day on the Office channel."
     The contact screens attached to his eyeballs stayed blank: Cluster was out. Impatiently, Sid toed the console, checking the channels: Light, Medium and Deep Sitcom; auto-hypno; Light and Deep Narco; four, six, and eighty-party Social; and finally, muttering to himself, Psychan. Cluster's identity symbol appeared on his screens.
     "There you are," he grieved. "Psychan again. After a hard day, the least a man expects is to find his wife tuned to his channel—"
     "Oh, Sid; there's this wonderful analyst. A new model. It's doing so much for me, really wonderful. . . ."
     "I know," Sid grumped. "That's all I hear. I'd think you'd want to keep in touch with the Sitcoms, so you know what's going on; but I suppose you've been tied into Psychan all day—while I burned my skull out on Office."
     "Now, Sid; didn't I program your dinner and everything?"
     "Um." Mollified, Sid groped with his tongue for the dinner lever, eased the limp plastic tube into his mouth. He sucked a mouthful of the soft paste—
     "Cluster! You know I hate Vege-pap. Looks like you could at least dial a nice Prote-sim or Sucromash. . . ."
     "Sid, you ought to tune to Psychan. It would do you a world of good. . . ." Her sub-vocalized voice trailed off in the earphones. Sid snorted, dialed a double Prote-sim and a Sucromash, fuming at the delay. He gulped his dinner, not even noticing the rich gluey consistency; then, in a somewhat better mood, flipped to the Light Sitcom.

     The stylized identity-symbol of the Pubinf announcer flashed on Sid's screens, vibrating in resonance with the impersonal voice of the Official announcer:
     " . . . . cause for concern. CentProg states that control will have been re-established within the hour. Some discomfort may result from vibration in sectors north of Civic Center, but normalcy will be restored shortly. Now, a word on the food situation."

     "Listen," a hoarse voice said. "Everybody, listen. We're blanketing all the channels this time—I hope. This is our last try. There's only a few of us. It wasn't easy getting into here—and there's no time left. We've got to move fast."
     The voice stopped as the man on the screen breathed hoarsely, swallowed. Then he went on:
     "It's the ice; it's moving down on us, fast, a god-awful big glacier. The walls can't stand much longer. It'll either wipe the city off the map or bury it. Either way, anybody that stays is done for.
     "Listen; it won't be easy, but you've got to try. Don't try to go down. You can't get out below because of the drifts. Go up, onto the roofs. It's your only chance—you must go up."
     The image on Sid's contact screens trembled violently, then blanked. Moments later, Sid felt a tremor—worse, this time. His cocoon seemed to pull at him. For a moment he was aware of the drag of a hundred tiny contacts grafted to the skin, a hundred tiny conductors penetrating to nerve conduits—
     An almost suffocating wave of claustrophobia swept over him. The universe seemed to be crushing in on him, immobile, helpless, a grub buried in an immense anthill—
     The shock passed. Slowly, Sid regained a grip on himself. His respirator was cycling erratically, attempting to match to his ragged breathing impulses. His chest ached from the strain. He groped with a toe, keyed in Cluster's identity pattern.

     CentProg was still dark. Sid was staring at the blank screens when a new shock sent heavy vibrations through his cocoon. Sid gasped, tried to keep cool. It would pass; it wasn't anything, it couldn't be. . . .
     The vibrations built, heavy, hard shocks that drove the air from Sid's lungs, yanked painfully at arms, legs, neck, and his groin. . . .
     It was a long time before the nausea passed. Sid lay, drawing breath painfully, fighting down the vertigo. The pain—it was a help, in a way. It helped to clear his head. Something was wrong, badly wrong. He had to think now, do the right thing. It wouldn't do to panic. If only there wouldn't be another earthquake. . . .
     Something wet splattered against Sid's half-open mouth. He recoiled, automatically spitting the mucky stuff, snorting—
     It was Vege-pap, gushing down from the feeding tube. Sid averted his face, felt the cool semi-liquid pattering against the cocoon, spreading over it, sloshing down the sides. Something was broken. . . .
     Sid groped for the cut-off with his tongue, gagging at the viscous mess pouring over his face. Of course, it hadn't actually touched his skin, except for his lips; the cocoon protected him. But he could feel the thick weight of it, awash in the fluid that supported the plastic cocoon. He could sense it quite clearly, flowing under him, forcing him up in the chamber as the hydrostatic balance was upset. With a shock of pain, Sid felt a set of neuro contacts along his spinal cord come taut. He gritted his teeth, felt searing agony as the contacts ripped loose.
     Half of the world went dark and cold. Sid was only dimly aware of the pressure against his face and chest as he pressed against the cell roof. All sensation was gone from his legs now, from his left arm, his back. His left contact screen was blank, unseeing. Groaning with the effort, Sid strained to reach out with a toe, key the emergency signal—
     Hopeless. Without the boosters he could never make it. His legs were dead, paralyzed. He was helpless.

     He tried to scream, choked, fought silently in the swaddling cocoon, no longer a euphorically caressing second skin but a dead, clammy weight, blinding him. He twisted, feeling unused muscles cramp at the effort, touched the lever that controlled the face-plate. He'd had a reputation as an open-air fiend once—but that had been—he didn't know how long. The lever was stiff. Sid lunged against it again. It gave. There was a sudden lessening of pressure as the burden of Vege-pap slopped out through the opening. Sid sank away from the ceiling of the tiny cubicle, felt his cocoon ground on the bottom.
     For a long time Sid lay, dazed by pain and shock, not even thinking, waiting for the agony to subside. . . .
     Then the itching began. It penetrated Sid's daze, set him twitching in a frenzy of discomfort. The tearing loose of the dorsal contacts had opened dozens of tiny rents in the cocoon; a sticky mixture of the supporting water bath and Vege-pap seeped in, irritating the tender skin. Sid writhed, struggled to scratch—and discovered that, miraculously, the left arm responded now. The motor nerves which had been stunned by the electroneural trickle-flow through the contacts were recovering control. Feebly, Sid's groping hand reached his inflamed hip—and scrabbled against the smooth sheath of plastic.
     He had to get out. The cocoon was a confining nightmare, a dead husk that had to be shed. The face-plate was open. Sid felt upward, found the edge, tugged—
     Slippery as an eel, he slithered from the cocoon, hung for an instant as the remaining contacts came taut, then slammed to the floor a foot below. Sid didn't feel the pain of the fall; as the contacts ripped free, he fainted.

     When Sid recovered consciousness, his first thought was that the narco channel was getting a little too graphic. He groped for a tuning switch—
     Then he remembered. The earthquake, Mel, the canned announcement—
     And he had opened his face-plate and fought to get out—and here he was. He blinked dully, then moved his left hand. It took a long time, but he managed to peel the contact screens from his eyes. He looked around. He was lying on the floor in a rectangular tunnel. A dim light came from a glowing green spot along the corridor. Sid remembered seeing it before, a long time ago. . . . the day he and Cluster had entered their cocoons.
     Now that he was detached from the stimuli of the cocoon, it seemed to Sid, he was able to think a little more clearly. It had hurt to be torn free from the security of the cocoon, but it wasn't so bad now. A sort of numbness had set in. But he couldn't lie here and rest; he had to do something, fast. First, there was Cluster. She hadn't answered. Her cocoon was situated right next to his—
     Sid tried to move; his leg twitched; his arm fumbled over the floor. It was smooth and wet, gummy with the Vege-pap that was still spilling down from the open face-plate. The smell of the stuff was sickening. Irrationally, Sid had a sudden mouth-watering hunger for Prote-sim.
     Sid fixed his eyes on the green light, trying to remember. He and Cluster had been wheeled along the corridor, laughing and talking gaily. Somehow, out here, things took on a different perspective. That had been—God! Years ago. How long? Maybe—twenty years? Longer. Fifty, maybe. Maybe longer. How could you know? For a while they had tuned to Pubinf, followed the news, kept up with friends on the outside. But more and more of their friends had signed contracts with CentProg. The news sort of dried up. You lost interest.
     But what mattered now wasn't how long, it was what he was going to do. Of course, an attendant would be along soon in any case to check up, but meanwhile, Cluster might be in trouble—

     The tremor was bad this time. Sid felt the floor rock, felt the hard paving under him ripple like the surface of a pond. Somewhere, a rumbling sound rolled, and somewhere something heavy fell. The green light flickered, then burned steadily again.
     A shape moved in the gloom of the corridor; there was the wet slap of footsteps. Sid sub-vocalized a calm "Hi, fellows." The silence rang in his ears. My God, of course they couldn't hear him. He tried again, consciously vocalizing, a tremendous shout—
     A feeble croak, and a fit of coughing. When he recovered his breath, a bare and hairy face, greenish white, was bending over him.
     " . . . . this poor devil," the man was saying in a thin choked voice.
     Another face appeared over the first face's shoulder. Sid recognized them both. They were the two that had been breaking into decent channels, with their wild talk about a glacier. . . .
     "Listen, fellow," one of the bare-faced men said. Sid stared with fascinated disgust at the clammy pale skin, the sprouting hairs, the loose toothless mouth, the darting pink tongue. God, people were horrible to look at!
     " . . . . be along after a while. Didn't mean to stir up anybody in your shape. You been in too long, fellow. You can't make it."
     "I'm. . . . good. . . . shape. . . ." Sid whispered indignantly.
     "We can't do anything for you. You'll have to wait till the maintenance unit comes along. I'm pretty sure you'll be okay. The ice's piled itself up in a wall now, and split around the city walls. I think they'll hold. Course, the ice will cover the city, but that won't matter. CentProg will still handle everything. Plenty of energy from the pile and the solar cells, and the recycling will handle the food okay. . . ."
     " . . . . Cluster. . . ." Sid gasped. The bare-faced man leaned closer. Sid explained about his wife. The man checked nearby face-plates. He came back and knelt by Sid. "Rest easy, fellow," he said. "They all look all right. Your wife's okay. Now, we're going to have to go on. But you'll be okay. Plenty of Vege-pap around, I see. Just eat a little now and then. The Maintenance machine will be along and get you tucked back in."
     "Where. . . . ?" Sid managed.
     "Us? We're heading south. Matt here knows where we can get clothes and supplies, maybe even a flier. We never were too set on this Vital Programming. We've only been in maybe a few years and we always did a lot of auto-gym work, keeping in shape. Didn't like the idea of wasting away. . . . Matt's the one found out about the ice. He came for me. . . ."
     Sid was aware of the other man talking. It was hard to hear him.
     A sudden thought struck Sid. " . . . . how long. . . . ?" he asked.

     It took three tries, but the bare-faced man got the idea at last.
     "I'll take a look, fellow," he said. He went to Sid's open face-plate, peered at it, called the other man over. Then he came back, his feet spattering in the puddled Vege-pap.
     "Your record says. . . . 2043," he said. He looked at Sid with wide eyes. They were red and irritated, Sid saw. It made his own eyes itch.
     "If that's right, you been here since the beginning. My God, that's over. . . . two hundred years. . . ."
     The second bare-faced man, Matt, was pulling the other away. He was saying something, but Sid wasn't listening. Two hundred years. It seemed impossible. But after all, why not? In a controlled environment, with no wear and tear, no disease, you could live as long as CentProg kept everything running. But two hundred years. . . .
     Sid looked around. The two men were gone. He tried to remember just what had happened, but it was too hard. The ice, they had said, wouldn't crush the city. But it would flow around it, encase it in ice, and the snow would fall, and cover it, and the city would lie under the ice.
     Ages might pass. In the cells, the cocoons would keep everyone snug and happy. There would be the traditional sitcoms, and Narco, and Psychan. . . .
     And up above, the ice.

From COCOON by Keith Laumer (1962)

      The First Electronic Age, Peyton knew, had begun in 1908, more than eleven centuries before, with De Forest’s invention of the triode. The same fabulous century that had seen the coming of the World State, the airplane, the spaceship, and atomic power had witnessed the invention of all the fundamental thermionic devices that made possible the civilisation he knew.
     The Second Electronic Age had come five hundred years later. It had been started not by the physicists but by the doctors and psychologists. For nearly five centuries they had been recording the electric currents that flow in the brain during the processes of thought. The analysis had been appallingly complex, but it had been completed after generations of toil. When it was finished the way lay open for the first machines that could read the human mind.
     But this was only the beginning. Once man had discovered the mechanism of his own brain he could go further. He could reproduce it, using transistors and circuit networks instead of living cells.

     Toward the end of the twenty-fifth century, the first thinking machines were built. They were very crude, a hundred square yards of equipment being required to do the work of a cubic centimetre of human brain. But once the first step had been taken it was not long before the mechanical brain was perfected and brought into general use.
     It could perform only the lower grades of intellectual work and it lacked such purely human characteristics as initiative, intuition, and all emotions. However, in circumstances which seldom varied, where its limitations were not serious, it could do all that a man could do.

     The coming of the metal brains had brought one of the great crises in human civilisation. Though men had still to carry out all the higher duties of statesmanship and the control of society, all the immense mass of routine administration had been taken over by the robots. Man had achieved freedom at last. No longer did he have to rack his brains planning complex transport schedules, deciding production programmes, and balancing budgets. The machines, which had taken over all manual labour centuries before, had made their second great contribution to society.

     The effect on human affairs was immense, and men reacted to the new situation in two ways. There were those who used their new-found freedom nobly in the pursuits which had always attracted the highest minds: the quest for beauty and truth, still as elusive as when the Acropolis was built.

     But there were others who thought differently. At last, they said, the curse of Adam is lifted forever. Now we can build cities where the machines will care for our every need as soon as the thought enters our minds—sooner, since the analysers can read even the buried desires of the subconscious. The aim of all life is pleasure and the pursuit of happiness. Man has earned the right to that. We are tired of this unending struggle for knowledge and the blind desire to bridge space to the stars.

     It was the ancient dream of the Lotus Eaters, a dream as old as Man. Now, for the first time, it could be realised. For a while there were not many who shared it. The fires of the Second Renaissance had not yet begun to flicker and die. But as the years passed, the Decadents drew more and more to their way of thinking. In hidden places on the inner planets they built the cities of their dreams.
     For a century they flourished like strange exotic flowers, until the almost religious fervour that inspired their building had died. They lingered for a generation more. Then, one by one, they faded from human knowledge. Dying, they left behind a host of fables and legends which had grown with the passing centuries.
     Only one such city had been built on Earth, and there were mysteries about it that the outer world had never solved. For purposes of its own, the World Council had destroyed all knowledge of the place. Its location was a mystery. Some said it was in the Arctic wastes; others believed it to be hidden on the bed of the Pacific. Nothing was certain but its name—Comarre.

From THE LION OF COMARRE by Arthur C. Clarke (1949)

      "We are too rich," said Webster. "We have too much. Everything was left for us—everything and nothing. When Mankind went out to Jupiter the few that were left behind inherited the Earth and it was too big for them. They couldn't handle it. They couldn't manage it They thought they owned it, but they were the ones that were owned. Owned and dominated and awed by the things that had gone before."
     She reached out a hand and touched his arm.
     "Poor Jon," she said.
     "We can't flinch away from it," he said. Some day some of us must face the truth, must start over again—from scratch."

     "Yes, what is it, Sara?"
     "I came here to say good-by."
     "I'm going to take the Sleep."
     He came to his feet, swiftly, horrified. "No, Sara!"
     She laughed and the laugh was strained. "Why don't you come with me, Jon. A few hundred years. Maybe it will all be different when we awake."
     "Just because no one wants your canvases. Just because—"
     "Because of what you said just a while ago. Illusion, Jon. I knew it, felt it, but I couldn't think it out."
     "But the Sleep is illusion, too."
     "I know. But you don't know it's illusion. You think it's real You have no inhibitions and you have no fears except the fears that are planned deliberately. It's natural, Jon—more natural than life. I went to the Temple and it was all explained to me."
     "And when you awake?"
     "You're adjusted. Adjusted to whatever life is like in whatever era you awake. Almost as if you belonged, even from the first. And it might be better. Who knows? It might be better."
     "It won't be," Jon told her, grimly. "Until, or unless, someone does something about it. And a people that run to the Sleep to hide are not going to bestir themselves.
     She shrank back in the chair and suddenly he felt ashamed.
     "I'm sorry, Sara. I didn't mean you. Nor any one person. Just the lot of us."

From HOBBIES by Clifford Simak (1946)

It had been scarcely two months since Helen had disappeared under the cowl. Two months by our reckoning, at least. From her perspective it could have been a day or a decade; the Virtually Omnipotent set their subjective clocks along with everything else.

She wasn't coming back. She would only deign to see her husband under conditions that amounted to a slap in the face. He didn't complain. He visited as often as she would allow: twice a week, then once. Then every two. Their marriage decayed with the exponential determinism of a radioactive isotope and still he sought her out, and accepted her conditions.

On the day the lights came down, I had joined him at my mother's side. It was a special occasion, the last time we would ever see her in the flesh. For two months her body had lain in state along with five hundred other new ascendants on the ward, open for viewing by the next of kin. The interface was no more real than it would ever be, of course; the body could not talk to us. But at least it was there, its flesh warm, the sheets clean and straight. Helen's lower face was still visible below the cowl, though eyes and ears were helmeted. We could touch her. My father often did. Perhaps some distant part of her still felt it.

But eventually someone has to close the casket and dispose of the remains. Room must be made for the new arrivals—and so we came to this last day at my mother's side. Jim took her hand one more time. She would still be available in her world, on her terms, but later this day the body would be packed into storage facilities crowded far too efficiently for flesh and blood visitors. We had been assured that the body would remain intact—the muscles electrically exercised, the body flexed and fed, the corpus kept ready to return to active duty should Heaven experience some inconceivable and catastrophic meltdown. Everything was reversible, we were told. And yet—there were so many who had ascended, and not even the deepest catacombs go on forever. There were rumors of dismemberment, of nonessential body parts hewn away over time according to some optimum-packing algorithm. Perhaps Helen would be a torso this time next year, a disembodied head the year after. Perhaps her chassis would be stripped down to the brain before we'd even left the building, awaiting only that final technological breakthrough that would herald the arrival of the Great Digital Upload.

We donned the hoods that served as day passes for the Unwired, and we met my mother in the spartan visiting room she imagined for these visits. She'd built no windows into the world she occupied, no hint of whatever utopian environment she'd constructed for herself. She hadn't even opted for one of the prefab visiting environments designed to minimize dissonance among visitors. We found ourselves in a featureless beige sphere five meters across. There was nothing in there but her.

From BLINDSIGHT by Peter Watts (2006)

Casual FTL Travel

Many science fiction stories with faster-than-light starships feature civilian commercial starships that can ship freight over interstellar distances at about the same transport cost as modern-day cargo aircraft.

While an era where long-established starships exists makes for a safe and familiar sci-fi background for the readers, authors should keep in mind that in the historical era where casual FTL starships are first invented, times are going to be stark raving nuts. Disruptive innovation is putting it mildly.

For instance, corporations found it most lucrative back in the days of company mining and logging camps. The employees were not paid in money, but instead in company scrip. The company scrip could only be spent in the company store. Due to this Truck system, the employees more often than not wound up owing their soul to the company store.

With casual FTL travel, they can set up company planets. Located light-years beyond the jurisdiction of any Terran nation. Most disruptive indeed.

Casual interplanetary travel may be similar on a smaller scale. However, sharing the same solar system as Terra means warships from various nations will be closer at hand to keep corporations et al on a shorter leash.

"If you know how warp drive actually works, stop wasting time writing science fiction and get thee to a patent attorney as fast as possible so you can begin to enjoy your reign as the Bill Gates of faster-than-light travel."
Phillip Athans and R. A. Salvatore, Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction

In real life, so far as we can tell, interstellar travel is an epic undertaking. The distances involved are vast, and so for a timely journey, your speed must be equally colossal. To accelerate a ship to near light-speed and then to decelerate it again would necessarily require a huge quantity of energy. Not to mention the fact that, at those speeds, the tiniest dust particle becomes a deadly hazard. And if anything goes wrong, you're stuck hurtling through the depths of space with no chance of being rescued and no hope of escape. Although the popular idea of the speed of light imposing a kind of universal speed limit upon your travels is a misconception, you can forget maintaining any connection to your home planet; if you did ever decide to return after zipping around the galaxy, you would find that centuries had passed with everybody you knew long dead and gone. Not a prospect for the faint of heart.

In some Speculative Fiction settings, interstellar travel is depicted as expensive and at least moderately time-consuming, being mostly limited to governments and major commercial operations. But that's not here.

With this trope, interstellar travel is no more complex than booking a flight is today. In some cases, it's the equivalent of driving a car down a paved road.

Some stories use a teleportation network, while others simply decide that ships capable of traveling thousands or millions of times the speed of light are available to every Tom, Richard, and Harry.

This is usually part and parcel of stories that treat planets like towns; interstellar voyages are thus little more than like intercontinental flights or at worst, like crossing an ocean in a steamship. If the Sci Fi Writers Have Any Sense Of Scale, then the scale of civilization surpasses our one planet easily. And probably mocks the Mundane Manifesto while it's at it.

This is usually done deliberately; works that use it err on the softer side of SF.

Related to Conveniently Close Planet. Sister Trope to Casual Interplanetary Travel.

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


(ed note: In the future, Terra has a kind of world government called "The Communion". Actually it is more like a glorified better business bureau but I digress. About 300 years ago they send a slower-than-light starship to establish an interstellar colony, which seemingly fails. However, they suddenly show up at Terra after 300 years of silence, with a faster-than-light starship.

The first Terran they meet is Chryse Haller, who happens to be owner and CEO of Haller Associates, the biggest manufacturer of spacecraft. The daughter of the starship captain, Terra Braedon, becomes fast friends with Chryse.

The Communion is not happy with the appearance of the FTL starship, since this will upset the status quo. Big time.)

      Terra blushed, but to Chryse’s surprise, agreed.
     “Before we do, though, may I ask you a question?” Terra asked.
     “Go ahead.”
     “The government people who arranged my flight up from Santiago didn’t seem too happy when I told them I was coming here.” (a big party being thrown by Haller Associates)
     Chryse laughed. “I’m not surprised.
     “Because, my dear, the Communion doesn’t totally trust my father and me. They know Haller Associates is interested in getting into the business of building starships. Not just ships for your expedition, but commercial vessels, too. This worries them.”
     “Why should it?”

     “Because star travel will mean a return to the days of the space pioneer and unlimited expansion. The universe will not be a safe and predictable place anymore. It won’t have the precisely defined limits that are so attractive to the swaddling cloth mentality that afflicts a lot of Communion functionaries.”

     “But what has that to do with my coming here?”
     “They probably think we arranged this party as a bribe to get an inside track on our competitors.”
     “And did you?” Terra asked.
     Chryse regarded her young guest with a serious expression. “Star travel is much too important to be monopolized … by anybody!”

From PROCYON'S PROMISE by Michael McCollum (1985)

(ed note: Richard Seaton and Martin Crane invented a power source that delivers electricity at a ridiculously inexpensive rate, and a faster-than-light spaceship drive. They are startled at the effect these have on the economy of Terra. Tellus=Terra. Arenak, dagal, and inoson are technobabble unreasonably strong materials.)

WHEN Seaton and Crane had begun to supply the Earth with ridiculously cheap power, they had expected an economic boom and a significant improvement in the standard of living. Neither of them had any idea, however, of the effect upon the world's economy that their space-flights would have; but many tycoons of industry did.

They were shrewd operators, those tycoons. As one man they licked their chops at the idea of interstellar passages made in days. They gloated over thoughts of the multifold increase in productive capacity that would have to be made so soon; as soon as commerce was opened up with dozens and then with hundreds of Tellus-type worlds, inhabited by human beings as human as those of Earth. And when they envisioned hundreds and hundreds of uninhabited Tellus-type worlds, each begging to be grabbed and exploited by whoever got to it first with enough stuff to hold it and to develop it... they positively drooled.

These men did not think of money as money, but as their most effective and most important tool: a tool to be used as knowledgeably as the old-time lumberjack used his axe.

Thus, Earth was going through convulsions of change more revolutionary by far than any it had experienced throughout all previous history. All those pressures building up at once had blown the lid completely off. Seaton and Crane and their associates had been working fifteen hours a day for months training people in previously unimagined skills; trying to keep the literally exploding economy from degenerating into complete chaos.

They could not have done it alone, of course. In fact, it was all that a thousand Norlaminian "Observers" could do to keep the situation even approximately in hand. And even the Congress—mirabile dictu!—welcomed those aliens with open arms; for it was so hopelessly deadlocked in trying to work out any workable or enforceable laws that it was accomplishing nothing at all.

All steel mills were working at one hundred ten per cent of capacity. So were almost all other kinds of plants. Machine tools were in such demand that no estimated time of delivery could be obtained. Arenak, dagal, and inoson, those wonder-materials of the construction industry, would be in general supply some day; but that day would not be allowed to come until the changeover could be made without disrupting the entire economy. Inoson especially was confined to the spaceship builders; and, while every pretense was being made that production was being increased as fast as possible, the demand for spaceships was so insatiable that every hulk that could leave atmosphere was out in deep space.

Multi-billion-dollar corporations were springing up all over Earth. Each sought out and began to develop a Tellus type planet of its own, to bring up as a civilized planet or merely to exploit as it saw fit. Each was clamoring for and using every possible artifice of persuasion, lobbying, horse-trading, and out-and-out bribery and corruption to obtain spaceships, personnel, machinery light and heavy, office equipment, and supplies. All the employables of Earth, and many theretofore considered unemployable, were at work.

Earth was a celestial madhouse...

From SKYLARK DUQUESNE by E. E. "Doc" Smith (1966)


The idea is that every person will be given a computerized device at birth which will will stay with them, teaching them and learning their owner's personality. They could even take over dull routine tasks like answering the telephone. They would also record more or less everything their user sees, hears, and otherwise experiences for their entire life. Sort of a backup memory.

Stealing such a device would be tandamount to stealing a person's entire life. Example: movie Taking Care of Business, except more so. There will also have to be laws against the police subpoenaing a person's electronic companion, something along the lines of spousal privilege.

Also, the device could assist a child while growing up; example: the nanotechnology educational book given to Nellodee in The Diamond Age. Such a device could also mold and brainwash a child; example: I Always Do What Teddy Says.

With respect to an electronic companion substituting for you over the telephone, there was a recent article titled: Tired of texting? Google tests robot to chat with friends for you. The version of the headline was "Google tests robot to chat with friends for you, so you could be dead for weeks before they know it"


One of the ways in which thinking machines will be able to help us is by taking over the humbler tasks of life, leaving the human brain free to concentrate on higher things. (Not, of course, that this is any guarantee that it will do so.) For a few generations, perhaps, every man will go through life with an electronic companion, which may be no bigger than today’s transistor radios. It will “grow up” with him from infancy, learning his habits, his business affairs, taking over all the minor chores like routine correspondence and income-tax returns and engagements. On occasion it could even take its master’s place, keeping appointments he preferred to miss, and then reporting back in as much detail as he desired. It could substitute for him over the telephone so completely that no one would be able to tell whether man or machine was speaking; a century from now, Turing’s “game” may be an integral part of our social lives, with complications and possibilities which I leave to the imagination.

You may remember that delightful robot, Robbie, from the movie Forbidden Planet. (One of the three or four movies so far made that anyone interested in science fiction can point to without blushing; the fact that the plot was Shakespeare’s doubtless helped.) I submit, in all seriousness, that most of Robbie’s abilities—together with those of a better known character, ]eeves—will one day be incorporated in a kind of electronic companion-secretary-valet. It will be much smaller and neater than the walking jukeboxes or mechanized suits of armor which Hollywood presents, with typical lack of imagination, when it wants to portray a robot. And it will be extremely talented, with quick-release connectors allowing it to be coupled to an unlimited variety of sense organs and limbs. It would, in fact, be a kind of general purpose, disembodied intelligence that could attach itself to whatever tools were needed for any particular occasion. One day it might be using microphones or electric typewriters or TV cameras; on another, automobiles or airplanes—or the bodies of men and animals.

From THE OBSOLESCENCE OF MAN by Arthur C. Clarke (1961)

We’ve had single-purpose robots for a long time—ever since human elevator operators were replaced by a panel of buttons. But robots that can actually make decisions based on changing circumstances require sophisticated software, what we erroneously call “artificial intelligence.” It’s not intelligence; it’s information processing. It’s pattern recognition at the service of problem-solving.

A true robot will be capable of many different tasks—and it will have the ability to learn new tasks as needed. I should be able to say, “Robbie, make me eggs Benedict for breakfast,” and Robbie will respond, “I am downloading the recipe now,” and possibly even, “We are out of eggs. I have ordered some from the store. Delivery will take 30 minutes.” Robbie will have to know how to read a recipe, understand it, inventory the ingredients needed, and order those that are not in the pantry.

The robot will require a level of data gathering, pattern recognition, information processing, and decision making that will surpass that of a human assistant.

At that point, the robot becomes the life manager. Cleaning house will be the least of its responsibilities. The robot will connect to all of your wireless devices and monitor what TV shows you want to watch, what toppings you want on the pizza you order, what bills you pay, and more. It will likely manage your finances as well, so that filling out your tax forms will be as simple as saying, “Robbie, file my tax return.”

All of this is already in development, or at least envisioned. The tech is there. It’s primarily a software challenge. (That, and a standardized language of data exchange.)

But there’s something else to consider.

Beyond a digital assistant

The more sophisticated a robot’s information processing ability, the more it will develop a personality tuned to the user. It will become a companion. It will become an electronic friend. It will play games, matching its ability to yours. It will offer suggestions and advice. It will be a good listener—like those old Eliza programs. It will even have a certain therapeutic function for those needing comfort. It will be an appropriate aide and companion for those with diminished mental abilities.

The robot teddy bear will be a toddler’s first friend. It will listen, it will respond, it will teach, and it will monitor the child’s health, reporting any irregularities to the parents. It will even sound an alarm in case the child stops breathing.

As the child grows, the teddy bear will evolve as well, becoming an ever-more sophisticated and robust playmate. The bear will be more than a playmate. It will play catch, helping the child develop motor skills. It will respond to “please” and “thank you,” helping the child develop better social skills. It will eventually demonstrate a sophisticated repertoire of emotional behaviors as well—happiness when the child demonstrates good behavior, and sadness and disappointment when the child demonstrates antisocial behavior.

Adolescence and adulthood will represent a whole other challenge for robot companions. But robots could become tutors and coaches throughout high school and college. Elsewhere in life, robots will be convenient in ways limited only by the needs of humans. They will become dance partners, they will play basketball, they will pace joggers, they will walk dogs, they will take on any task that can be defined by a specific set of rules. Robots will assist with the care of the sick and the elderly (see The Electric Grandmother). They may even end up delivering the mail.

Robots will certainly have military uses, but even more important, robots will be able to function in environments too hazardous for humans—firefighting, for example, and other rescue operations. Remote operators will be able to advise robots on specific goals within that hazardous environment.


He could, of course, have called the avatars of any or all of the others. Copies of their PAs—their Personal Assistants—resided within his fighter’s AI memory. He could hold a conversation with any of them and be completely unaware that he was speaking to software, not a living person…and he would know that the software would report the conversation with perfect fidelity to the person when the comnet channels opened later on. But avatars weren’t the same. For some it was, but not for Trevor Gray.

From EARTH STRIKE (Star Carrier Book One) by William H. Keith, Jr. (under pseudonym Ian Douglas) (2010)

The software avatar’s prototype, as its human object was known in the electronic intelligence business, had recorded a sizable amount of his own character, thoughts, and motivation within his AI counterparts. It was always possible that thoughts, memories—even entire histories—had slipped through from the fuzzy logic and holographic analog perceptions of the organic brain to a far simpler silicon-based digital format. This particular prototype was Admiral Alexander Koenig, and he worked closely with his AI personal assistant.

The primary software resided inside Koenig’s head, within the nanochelated implants in the twisting folds and furrows of the sulci of his brain. It served as his PA, or personal assistant, a kind of electronic secretary that could handle routine calls and virtual meetings, could so perfectly mimic Koenig’s appearance, voice, and mannerisms that callers could not tell whether they were speaking to the human or to the human-mimicking software. However, more than a month before, shortly after the Battle of Alphekka, Rear Admiral Koenig had copied his PA software, uploading it into one of the HAMP-20 Sleipnir-class mail packets carried as auxiliaries on board most of the ships of the fleet. Almost three times faster than the best possible speed for a capital ship under Alcubierre FTL Drive, they were used to carry high-velocity express communications across interstellar distances.

It had been this copied software that had piloted the most recent mail packet from Alphekka back to Earth.

From SINGULARITY (Star Carrier Book Three) by William H. Keith, Jr. (under pseudonym Ian Douglas) (2012)


      The little boy lay sleeping. The moonlight effect of the picture-picture window threw a pale glow across his untroubled features. He had one arm clutched around his teddy bear, pulling the round face with its staring button eyes close to his own. His father, and the tall man with the black beard, tiptoed silently across the nursery to the side of the bed.
     "Slip it away," the tall man said. "Then substitute the other.”
     "No, he would wake up and cry," Davy's father said. "Let me take care of this. I know what to do.” With gentle hands he laid the second teddy bear down next to the boy, on the other side of his head. His sleeping cherub face was framed by the wide-eared unsleeping masks of the toys. Then he carefully lifted the boy's arm from the original teddy and pulled it free. This disturbed Davy without waking him. He ground his teeth together and rolled over, clutching the substitute toy to his cheek. Within a few moments his soft breathing was regular and deep again. The boy's father raised his forefinger to his lips and the other man nodded; they left the room without making a sound, closing the door noiselessly behind them.

     "Now we begin," Torrence said, reaching out to take the teddy bear. His lips were small and glistened redly in the midst of his dark beard. The teddy bear twisted in his grip and the black-button eyes rolled back and forth.
     "Take me back to Davy," it said in a thin and tiny voice.
     Now he took the toy animal and led the way to the shielded room deep in the house where Eigg was waiting.
     "Give it here—here!” Eigg snapped when they came in, reaching for the toy. Eigg was always like that, in a hurry, surly, square and solid with his width of jaw and spotless white laboratory smock. But they needed him.
     "Gently," Numen said, but Eigg had already pulled it from his grasp. "It won't like it, I know …”
     "Let me go … let me go…!” the teddy bear said with a hopeless shrill.

     "It is just a machine," Eigg said coldly, putting in face down on the table and reaching for a scalpel. "You are a grown man, you should be more logical, have your emotions under greater control. You are speaking with your childhood memories, seeing your own boyhood teddy who was your friend and companion. This is only a machine.” With a quick slash he opened the fabric over the seam seal and touched it: the plastic-fur back gaped open like a mouth.
     "Let me go … let me go …” the teddy bear wailed while its stumpy arms and legs waved back and forth. Both of the onlookers went white.
     "Must we… ?”
     "Emotions. Control them," Eigg said and probed with a screwdriver. There was a click and the toy went limp. He began to unscrew a plate in the mechanism. He was silent for a moment while he removed the capsule of the memory spools. The two government specialists could only sit back and watch while Eigg inserted the capsule into the bulky machine that he had assembled in the room.
     "Let me go…” the tiny voice said from the wall speaker, then was interrupted by a burst of static. "Let me go … bzzzzzzt … no, no Davy, Mummy wouldn't like you to do that … fork in left, knife in right … if you do you'll have to wipe … good boy good boy good boy …” The voice squeaked and whispered and went on and on, while the hours on the clock went by, one by one. Of them all Eigg showed no strain or fatigue, working the controls with fingers regular as a metronome. The reedy voice from the capsule shrilled thinly through the night like the memory of a ghost.
     "It is done," Eigg said, sealing the fabric with quick surgeon's stitches.
     "We must get the teddy back," Torrence broke in. "The boy just moved.”

     Davy was a good boy and, when he grew older, a good student in school. Even after he began classes he kept teddy around and talked to him while he did his homework.
     "How much is seven and five, teddy?” The furry toy bear rolled its eyes and clapped stubby paws. "Davy knows … shouldn't ask teddy what Davy knows …” "Sure I know — I just wanted to see if you did. The answer is thirteen.” "Davy … the answer is twelve … you better study harder Davy … that's what teddy says …” "Fooled you!” Davy laughed. "Made you tell me the answer!” He was finding ways to get around the robot controls, permanently fixed to answer the question of a younger child. Teddies have the vocabulary and outlook of the very young because their job must be done during the formative years. Teddies teach diction and life history and morals and group adjustment and vocabulary and grammar and all the other things that enable men to live together as social animals. A teddy's job is done early in the most plastic stages of a child's life. By the very nature of its task its conversation must be simple and limited. But effective. By the time teddies are discarded as childish toys their job is done.

     By the time Davy became David and was eighteen years old, teddy had long since been retired behind a row of books on a high shelf. He was an old friend who had outgrown his useful days. But he was still a friend and certainly couldn't be discarded. Not that David ever thought of it that way. Teddy was just teddy and that was that. The nursery was now a study, his cot a bed and with his birthday past David was packing because he was going away to the university. He was sealing his bag when the phone bleeped and he saw his father's tiny image on the screen.
     "David …”
     "What is it, Father?”
     "Would you mind coming down to the library now. There is something rather important.” David squinted at the screen and noticed for the first time that his father's face had a pinched, sick look. His heart gave a quick jump.
     "Is something wrong?” he asked.
     "Not wrong, Davy," his father said. He must be upset, David thought, he hasn't called me that in years. "Or rather something is wrong, but with the state of the world, has been for a long time.”

     "Oh, the Panstentialists," David said, and relaxed a little. He had been hearing about the evils of Panstentialism as long as he could remember. It was just politics; he had been thinking something very personal was wrong. "Panstentialism is an oppressing philosophy and one that perpetuates itself in power.”
     "Exactly. And one man, Barre, is at the heart of it. He stays in the seat of power and will not relinquish it and, with the rejuvenation treatments, will be good for a hundred years more.”
     "Barre must go!” Eigg snapped. "For twenty-three years now he has ruled — and forbidden the continuation of my experiments. Young man, he has stopped my work for a longer time than you have been alive, do you realize that?”
     "Exactly!” Numen sprang to his feet and began to pace agitatedly up and down the room. "If that wasn't true, wasn't the heart of the problem, I would never consider being involved. There would be no problem if Barre suffered a heart attack and fell dead tomorrow.” The three older men were all looking at David now, though he didn't know why, and he felt they were waiting for him to say something.

     "Well, yes — I agree. A little coronary embolism right now would be the best thing for the world that I can think of. Barre dead would be of far greater service to mankind than Barre alive has ever been.” The silence lengthened, became embarrassing, and it was finally Eigg who broke it with his dry mechanical tones.
     "We are all then in agreement that Barre's death would be of immense benefit. In that case, David, you must also agree that it would be fine if he could be … killed…”
     "Not a bad idea," David said, wondering where all this talk was going. "Though of course that is a physical impossibility. It must be centuries since the last … what's the word, 'murder' took place. The developmental psychology work took care of that a long time ago. As the twig is bent and all that sort of thing. Wasn't that supposed to be the discovery that finally separated man from the lower orders, the proof that we could entertain the thought of killing and discuss it, yet still be trained in our early childhood so that we would not be capable of the act. Surely, if you can believe the textbooks, the human race has progressed immeasurably since the curse of killing has been removed. Look—do you mind if I ask you what this is all about… ?”

     "Barre can be killed," Eigg said in an almost inaudible voice. "There is one man in the world who can kill him.”
     "Who?” David asked and in some terrible way he knew the answer even before the words came from his father's trembling lips.
     "You, David … you…” He sat, unmoving, and his thoughts went back through the years, and a number of things that had been bothering him were now made clear. His attitudes so subtly different from his friends', and that time with the airship when one of the rotors had killed a squirrel. Little puzzling things — and sometimes worrying ones that had kept him awake long after the rest of the house was asleep. It was true, he knew it without a shadow of a doubt, and wondered why he had never realized it before. But, like a hideous statue buried in the ground beneath one's feet, it had always been there but had never been visible until he had dug down and reached it. It was visible now with all the earth scraped from its vile face, all the lineaments of evil clearly revealed.

     "You want me to kill Barre?” he asked.
     "You're the only one who can … Davy … and it must be done. For all these years I have hoped against hope that it would not be needed. That the … ability you have would not be used. But Barre lives. For all our sakes, he must die.”
     "There is one thing I don't understand," David said, rising and looking out the window at the familiar view of the trees and the glass canopied highway. "How was this change made? How could I miss the conditioning that is a normal part of existence in this world?”
     "It was your teddy bear," Eigg explained. "It is not publicized, but the reaction to killing is established by the tapes in the machine that every child has. Later education is just reinforcement, valueless without the earlier indoctrination.”
     "Then my teddy… ?”
     "I altered its tapes, in just that one way, so this part of your education would be missed. Nothing else was changed.”

     "It was enough, Doctor.” There was a coldness to his voice that had never existed before. "How is Barre supposed to be killed?”
     "With this.” Eigg removed a package from the table drawer and opened it.
     "This is a primitive weapon removed from a museum. I have repaired it, then charged it with the projectile devices called shells.” He held the sleek, ugly, black thing in his hand. "It is fully automatic in operation. When this device, the trigger, is depressed a chemical reaction propels a copper and lead weight named a bullet directly from the front orifice. The line of flight of the bullet is along an imaginary path extended from these two niches on the top of the device. The bullet of course falls by gravity. But in a minimum distance, say a meter, this fall is negligible.” He put it down suddenly on the table. "It is called a gun.”
     David reached over slowly and picked it up. How well it fitted into his hand, sitting with such precise balance. He raised it slowly, sighted across the niches and pulled the trigger. It exploded with an immense roar and jumped in his hand. The bullet plunged into Eigg's chest just over his heart with such a great impact that the man and the chair he had been sitting in were hurled backwards to the floor. The bullet also tore a great hole in his flesh and Eigg's throat choked with blood and he died.

     "David! What are you doing?” His father's voice cracked with uncomprehending horror.
     David turned away from the thing on the floor, still unmoved by what he had done.
     "Don't you understand, Father? Barre and his Panstentialists are indeed a terrible weight. Many suffer and freedom is abridged, and all the other things that are wrong, that we know should not be. But don't you see the difference? You yourself said that things would change after Barre's death. The world would move on. So how is his crime to be compared to the crime of bringing this back into existence?” He shot his father quickly and efficiently before the older men could realize the import of his words and suffer with the knowledge of what was coming. Torrence screamed and ran to the door, fumbling with terrified fingers at the lock. David shot him too. But not very well since he was so far away, and the bullet lodged in his body and made him fall. David walked over and ignoring the screamings and bubbled words, took careful aim at the man's twisting head and blew out his brains.

     Now the gun was heavy and he was very tired. The lift shaft took him up to his room and he had to stand on a chair to take teddy down from behind the books on the high shelf. The little furry animal sat in the middle of the large bed and rolled its eyes and wagged its stubby arms.
     "Teddy," he said, "I'm going to pull up flowers from the flower bed.”
     "No Davy … pulling up flowers is naughty … don't pull up the flowers.” The little voice squeaked and the arms waved.
     "Teddy, I'm going to break a window.”
     "No, Davy … breaking windows is naughty … don't break any windows …”
     "Teddy, I'm going to kill a man.”
     Silence, just silence. Even the eyes and the arms were still.

     The roar of the gun broke the silence and blew a ruin of gears, wires and bent metal from the back of the destroyed teddy bear.
     "Teddy … oh, teddy …. you should have told me," David said and dropped the gun and at last was crying.

From I ALWAYS DO WHAT TEDDY SAYS by Harry Harrison (1965)

“Good.” With just the ghost of a smile, the Admiral continued: “In keeping with your appointment, and its responsibilities, it is my pleasure to announce your promotion from Commander, Pact Naval Forces, to General, Pact Marine Corps. The full text of your orders is being downloaded to your AID.”

Like all officers, Merikur carried an Artificial Intelligence Device, (AID) in his belt pouch. Besides the standard programming provided them at “birth,” AID’s could learn from experience, and sometimes developed rudimentary personalities. Merikur’s was almost fifteen standard years old and a bit irreverent. Annoying though it sometimes was, and rather too revelatory of some aspects of his own personality, Merikur’s AID was also very perceptive, and he couldn’t bring himself to wipe it and start all over. Besides, he liked the little bastard. Hearing itself mentioned, Merikur’s AID buzzed his auditory implant and said, “Orders received, your Generalship!”

“Yes,” Admiral Oriana added awkwardly, as if suddenly unsure of himself. “Citizen Ritt came all the way from Terra to brief you.”

Something cold settled in Merikur’s gut. Kona Tatsu. The Pact’s security service. And this one was working out of Terra HQ itself. He should have guessed from the uniform. The Kona Tatsu wore military uniforms without badges of rank, and went by the title “citizen,” although it understated their power.

Merikur felt a soft buzz in his ears and heard his implant say, “She’s toting enough shielded electronics to open a store. Chances are you’re being recorded in stereo.”

Merikur saw the two ratings were about to explode into laughter. The story would be all over the ship within an hour. “Yes. Tell one of these ratings to carry my gear and show me to my quarters.”

“Yyyesss sir. Nolte, you heard the general. Help him with his luggage and take him to his cabin. It’s number four on B deck.”

Merikur felt his implant buzz. “The Bremerton is a standard Port Class Cruiser. For full schematics, plug me into any printer. ” Well aware of the ship’s layout right down to the smallest crawlway, Merikur ignored his AID and asked, “Your name, Ensign?”

The humans laughed and Windsor said, “Speaking of Cernia … Why don’t you give the general a quick briefing. I’m sure he’ll sleep better.”“I have the most recent intelligence estimates on file,” Merikufs AID volunteered. “Not that they’ll do you much good unless you take the time to read them.”

From that point on Merikur immersed himself in his work. There was plenty to keep him busy from the moment the ship broke orbit until its arrival in Harmony Cluster.

First there was his AID to debrief, including a line-by-line reading of his voluminous official orders, and an endless series of intelligence reports on the Harmony Cluster. Lacking any sort of faster-than-ship communication, the material was probably outdated; but it did give him a base line against which to judge more current information when it became available.

From CLUSTER COMMAND by William C. Dietz and David Drake (1989)

Intelligence Amplification


Drugs that amplify intelligence (temporarily or permanently) are called Nootropics (aka smart drugs, memory enhancers, neuro enhancers, cognitive enhancers, and intelligence enhancers).

Examples from science fiction include R-47 from Gordon Dickson's THE R-MASTER, “VC” (viral coefficient) from John Brunner's THE STONE THAT NEVER CAME DOWN, "Hormone K Treatment" from Ted Chiang's UNDERSTAND, Methuen Treatment from L. Sprague de Camp's THE EXALTED, NZT-48 from the movie LIMITLESS and CPH4 from the movie LUCY.


THE IQ BOOSTERS WORKED SWIFTLY, SURGING UP through the arteries in her neck, seeking the outer layers of the neocortex. Manufactured from algae that had been genetically tricked into producing human enzymes, one set of boosters more than tripled the rate at which nerves recharged and fired, while other substances increased the growth of new nerve connections and modulated energy efficiency. It was the increase in firing frequency that had the first and most profound effect. After only two days on the boost, Tarn and her crew were connecting disparate and seemingly unrelated facts faster than they had ever before in their entire lives, possibly faster than any human beings since the beginning of time.

One side effect of her newly acquired abilities was that she could now clearly see the flicker of her liquid crystal display pad, which usually cycled too quickly for the human eye to register. Watching the pad (especially in the 3-D mode) became an activity guaranteed to trigger migraine, and she worried that there might be other unanticipated effects. Yet they were all being forced to think faster, to redesign their own brain chemistries, and, whenever necessary, to experiment upon themselves. They had no choice.

From THE KILLING STAR by Charles Pellegrino and George Zebrowski


A Brain-Computer Interface replaces the standard interaction between person and computer via monitor, keyboard, and mouse with something a little more intimate. The comptuter is connected direcly to your brain via implanted electrodes or something like that. Imagine a USB port in your skull. See the above link for details.

In the intelligence amplification category, such an interface can allow such IQ accelerating techniques as querying Google at the speed of thought and providing a math coprocessor for your brain.

In William Gibson's Mona Lisa Overdrive are datachips called "skill softs." If you need to speak Mandarin Chinese, pop in a Mandarin skill soft into the chip port on your skull. Ditto nuclear physics, cordon bleu chief, or military strategist. Skill softs for physical skills like karate, sharpshooting, and jet fighter pilot will require additional interfaces to your reflex nervous system. Skill softs are Upgrade Artifacts.

In James White Sector General science fiction novels if for instance, a human surgeon had to operate on a Melfan patient, the surgeon would be temporarily imprinted with an appropriate memory tape. This is a brain recording of an alien surgeon who is an expert in the required surgery. The trouble is the brain recording is not just the surgical skill, it is all the alien's memories. So the poor surgeon has an alien split-personality as long as they are imprinted. The memory tape is erased from the surgeon's brain immediately afterwards. Diagnosticians are entities who have such mental stability that they can hold multiple brain recordings simultaneously. They use this cross-knowledge to do original research.

The movie Brainstorm noted how such an interface can be used to record an experience on tape and play it back so another person can experience the same things. Eating a meal at a five-star restaurant, sky-diving, traveling to exotic places. Not to mention pornographic applications. They didn't go into it in the movie but such an interface can be used to directly connect two people together, creating a sort of computer assisted telepathy.


From the person's standpoint, it appears like their mind is moved out of their meat body and transferred into a computer.

From an outside view it looks more like an incredibly advanced computer program is written which can perfectly simulate your memories, thoughts, and personality. The meat person still exists, they are a little dubious about this perfect simulation software running in the computer in the next room. Yes, this opens a screaming can of flailing worms full of questions about what is identity and related matters.

This is part of the Digital Crew Concept for slower-than-light starships, since uploaded people only require a computer, they have no mass and require no consumables.

Note this can result in the extinction of the human race by Existential Risk 6.1 Take-over by a transcending upload.



You are in an operating room. A robot brain surgeon is in attendance. By your side is a potentially human equivalent computer, dormant for lack of a program to run. Your skull, but not your brain, is anaesthetized. You are fully conscious. The surgeon opens your brain case and peers inside. Its attention is directed at a small clump of about 100 neurons somewhere near the surface. It determines the three dimensional structure and chemical makeup of that clump non-destructively with neutron tomography, phased array radio encephalography, and ultrasonic radar. It writes a program that models the behavior of the clump, and starts it running on a small portion of the computer next to you. Fine wires are run from the edges of the neuron assembly to the computer, providing the simulation with the same inputs as the neurons. You and the surgeon check the accuracy of the simulation. After you are satisfied, tiny relays are inserted between the edges of the clump and the rest of the brain. Initially these leave brain unchanged , but on command they can connect the simulation in place of the clump. A button which activates the relays when pressed is placed in your hand. You press it, release it and press it again. There should be no difference. As soon as you are satisfied, the simulation connection is established firmly , and the now unconnected clump of neurons is removed.

The process is repeated over and over for adjoining clumps, until the entire brain has been dealt with. Occasionally several clump simulations are combined into a single equivalent but more efficient program. Though you have not lost consciousness, or even your train of thought, your mind (some would say soul) has been removed from the brain and transferred to a machine.

In a final step your old body is disconnected. The computer is installed in a shiny new one, in the style, color and material of your choice. You are no longer a cyborg halfbreed, your metamorphosis is complete.

Advantages become instantly apparent. Your computer has a control labelled speed. It had been set to slow, to keep the simulations synchronized with the old brain, but now you change it to fast. You can communicate, react and think a thousand times faster. But that’s just a start.

The program in your machine can be read out and altered, letting you conveniently examine, modify, improve and extend yourself. The entire program may be copied into similar machines, giving two or more thinking, feeling versions of you. You may choose to move your mind from one computer to another more technically advanced, or more suited to a new environment. The program can also be copied to some future equivalent of magnetic tape. If the machine you inhabit is fatally clobbered, the tape can be read into a blank computer, resulting in another you, minus the experiences since the copy. With enough copies, permanent death would be very unlikely.

As a computer program, your mind can travel over infor- mation channels. A laser can send it from one computer to another across great distances and other barriers. If you found life on a neutron star, and wished to make a field trip, you might devise a way to build a neutron computer and robot body on the surface, then transmit your mind to it. Nuclear reactions are a million times quicker than chemistry, so the neutron you can probably think that much faster. It can act. acquire new experiences and memories, then beam its mind back home. The original body could be kept dormant during the trip to be reactivated with the new memories when the return message arrived. Alternatively, the original might remain active. There would then be two separate versions of you, with different memories for the trip interval.

Two sets of memories can be merged, if mind programs are adequately understood. To prevent confusion, memories of events would indicate in which body they happened. Merging should be possible not only between two versions of the same individual but also between different persons. Selective mergings, involving some of the other person's memories, and not others, would be a very superior form of communication, in which recollections, skills, attitudes and personalities can be rapidly and effectively shared.

(ed note: the process should be familiar with computer programmers who worked on a large project with many programmers. They use a version control system. If two programmers work on the same segment of the program at the same time, the two version must be merged )

Your new body will be able to carry more memories than your original biological one, but the accelerated infomiation explosion will insure the impossibility of lugging around all of civilization’s knowledge. You will have to pick and choose what your mind contains at any one time: There will often be knowledge and skills available from others superior to your own, and the incentive to substitute those talents for yours will be overwhelming. In the long run you will re- member mostly other people’s experiences, while memories you originated will be floating around the population at large. The very concept of you will become fuzzy, replaced by larger, communal egos.

Mind transferral need not be limited to human beings. Earth has other species with brains as large, from dolphins, our cephalic equals, to elephants, whales, and giant squid, with brains up to twenty times as big. Translation between their mental representation and ours is a technical problem comparable to converting our minds into a computer program. Our culture could be fused with theirs , we could incorporate each other’s memories, and the species boundaries would fade. Non-intelligent creatures could also be popped into the data banks. The simplest organisms might contribute little more than the infonnation in their DNA. In this way our future selves will benefit from all the lessons leamed by terrestrial biological and cultural evolution. This is a far more secure form of storage than the present one, where genes and ideas are lost when the conditions that gave rise to them change.

Our speculation ends in a super-civilization, the synthesis of all solar system life, constantly improving and extending itself, spreading outwards from the sun, converting non-life into mind. There may be other such bubbles expanding from elsewhere. What happens when we meet? Fusion of us with them is a possibility, requiring only a translation scheme between the memory representations. This process, possibly occurring now elsewhere, might convert the entire universe into an extended thinking entity, a prelude to even greater things.

by Hans P. Mouravec (1978)


In the science fiction realm, memory can become a problem if a person is immortal or very long-lived. It is unknown what the maximum memory storage capacity is for the human brain. And even if there is plenty of storage left, how do you find the particular memory you seek? Imagine trying to find a particular web-page on the internet if there was no Google or other web searcher. Each day adds a days worth of new memory data to drown in.

The mechanical solution is to use a You-Simulator, hooked up to some kind of search algorithm. The mental solution is to use mnemonic techniques, such as the Method of loci. This sort of adds an index to one's memories.


(ed note: Lazarus Long is immortal, or very very long lived. In this scene he is currently in excess of five thousand years old)

      “I was saying that your memoirs are incomplete. Even if you are determined to go through with dying, won’t you consider granting me and your other descendants the rest of your memoirs? Simply talk, tell us what you’ve seen and done. Careful analysis might teach us quite a lot. For example, what did happen at that Families Meeting of 2012? The minutes don’t tell much.”

     “Who cares now, Ira? They’re all dead. It would be my version without giving them a chance to answer back. Let sleeping dogs bury their own dead. Besides, I told you my memory was playing tricks. I’ve used Andy Libby’s hypno-encyclopedic techniques—and they’re good—and also learned tier storage for memory I didn’t need every day, with keying words to let a tier cascade when I did need it, like a computer, and I have had my brain washed of useless memories several times in order to clear those file drawers for new data—and still it’s no good. Half the time I can’t remember where I put the book I was reading the night before, then waste a morning looking for it—before I remember that that book was one I was reading a century ago. Why won’t you leave an old man in peace?”

(ed note: in computer architectures, tier storage is what we call "archiving")

From TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE by Robert Heinlein (1973)

Warning: spoilers for DEFIANCE by Joel Shepherd

(ed note: about forty thousand year ago, an interstellar forerunner race created artificial intelligence. Predictably it eventually decided to go all Skynet on them. The AI committed genocide on the forerunners, they tried to do the same to any other alien species that arose since. However, eventually the AI split into two factions that went to war with each other. This weakened both to the point where the biological aliens managed to defeat the AIs. Occasionally tiny nests of AIs are discovered and destroyed. Terrans call the AIs the horribly descriptive name "Hacksaws," because of the vibroblades on their arms that the AI robots use to slice people into bloody bits.

Our Heroes of the good ship Phoenix of the Terran Star Navy are running a way from an attempt by said Star Navy to frame them as part of a conspiracy of a government faction to keep a grip on power. Phoenix finds an AI nest, and due to lack of options makes common cause with the AI "Queen" robot. The queen refers to itself as "Styx")

      “Major, just to clarify,” came Lieutenant ‘JC’ Crozier, who was south-east with Delta Platoon. “Styx didn’t know if these power systems could be restored or not?”
     “Styx says she was just a visitor,” said Trace, lining up her landing as the pad approached. She hit light thrust to decelerate at fifty metres, slowing rapidly. “And she always says she’s not a technician.”
     “No, she’s a mega-intellect and can build herself a new body from scratch,” Crozier said dubiously. “Whether she calls herself a technician or not, it ought to just be semantics for her.”

     Trace cut thrust at two metres and let gravity drop her lightly to the pad, then bounced clear toward the far edge to make space for Command Squad coming in behind. She’d wondered before how it was possible for Styx to forget anything. Computer memory did not become hazy with time, provided the systems were undamaged, and Styx’s systems were endlessly self-repairing to the point of being able to fill in a huge hole in her head (Major Trace had killed the queen by shooting an armor piercing bullet through its head, but it got better). But then, when she’d first arrived on Phoenix, Styx had claimed to not be the same ‘person’ now that she’d been back then, all those millennia ago (about forty thousand years). Perhaps that was it, Trace thought, bouncing to the edge of the platform and looking across the view. Surely such an old, old mind would add layers of new data, accumulated memories and the processing nodes those new connections created. After so many years, perhaps she’d become layered like an onion… and if that was so, perhaps those most recent, outer layers began to have difficulty interacting with the inner layers. But Trace was too busy with combat operations to ponder it further, no matter how directly important to her current considerations…

From DEFIANCE by Joel Shepherd ()

      "What is that building?"
     "It is a place of decision. I am the judge. The Guardians bring things to me and I judge their humanity or their human origin, or lack of it. There are certain qualities of humanity the Program cannot evaluate on its own."
     "Has anything of human origin ever been brought before you? Have there been people you have judged to be human?"
     "All were human or of human origin. Without exception."
     "And what did you tell the Program?"
     "I evaluated it all as alien and demanded its immediate return to its origin for fear of retribution by superior technology, the one factor most respected by the Program. Except for plants. We allow the Program to consume its energy in harmless pursuits. But the people are returned to their home worlds if they survive the stress of capture and analysis. No human colony has been established among the Worlds of Man prepared by the Program. None properly fit the Program's selective definition, even when the Program is in doubt. Perhaps that is not such a tragedy. Man thrives on hostile worlds. Would he thrive as well in paradise wanting for nothing?"
     "These Worlds of Man. Do the Mediators inhabit them?"
     "Just this one planet. There are one million of us. No more and no less."
     "Can you reproduce?"
     Lithia failed to respond immediately. Chayn sensed her distress. "We can," she said. "We do not. We dare not. We are only Standards and not to live as human."

     "How long have you endured this kind of existence?"
     "I cannot answer. My brain is designed to retain memory no longer than one century. I am always one century old. Each minute I live erases a minute of the past. Physically, I have lived since the establishment of the Program in Andromeda."

     Chayn rejected it. "Lithia, that cannot be. You told me the Program was supposed to be established long before the colonies arrived. Even if they arrived millions of years late, it took time to establish the Worlds of Man. It must have taken—"
     "Fifty thousand years. Five hundred thousand years. We are not allowed to know for certain."

From NEMYDIA DEEP by William Tedford (1981)

      “You are correct, of course,” came the reply. “But that is merely part of the answer—and a very small part indeed. Until now, you have met only children of your own age, and they have been ignorant of the truth. Soon they will remember, but you will not, so we must prepare you to face the facts.
     “For over a billion years, Alvin, the human race has lived in this city. Since the Galactic Empire fell, and the Invaders went back to the stars, this has been our world. Outside the walls of Diaspar, there is nothing except the desert of which our legends speak.
     “We know little about our primitive ancestors, except that they were very short-lived beings and that, strange though it seems, they could reproduce themselves without the aid of memory units or matter organizers. In a complex and apparently uncontrollable process, the key patterns of each human being were preserved in microscopic cell structures actually created inside the body. If you are interested, the biologists can tell you more about it, but the method is of no great importance since it was abandoned at the dawn of history.
     “A human being, like any other object, is defined by its structure—its pattern. The pattern of a man, and still more the pattern which specifies a man’s mind, is incredibly complex. Yet Nature was able to pack that pattern into a tiny cell, too small for the eye to see.
     “What Nature can do, Man can do also, in his own way. We do not know how long the task took. A million years, perhaps—but what is that? In the end our ancestors learned how to analyze and store the information that would define any specific human being—and to use that information to re-create the original, as you have just created that couch.
     “I know that such things interest you, Alvin, but I cannot tell you exactly how it is done. The way in which information is stored is of no importance; all that matters is the information itself. It may be in the form of written words on paper, of varying magnetic fields, or patterns of electric charge. Men a have used all these methods of storage, and many others. Suffice to say that long ago they were able to store themselves; or, to be more precise, the disembodied patterns from which they could be called back into existence.
     “So much, you already know. This is the way our ancestors gave us virtual immortality, yet avoided the problems raised by the abolition of death. A thousand years in one body is long enough for any man; at the end of that time, his mind is clogged with memories, and he asks only for rest—or a new beginning.
     “In a little while, Alvin, I shall prepare to leave this life. I shall go back through my memories, editing them and canceling those I do not wish to keep. Then I shall walk into the Hall of Creation, but through a door which you have never seen. This old body will cease to exist, and so will consciousness itself. Nothing will be left of Jeserac but a galaxy of electrons frozen in the heart of a crystal.
     “I shall sleep, Alvin, and without dreams. Then one day, perhaps a hundred thousand years from now, I shall find myself in a new body, meeting those who have been chosen to be my guardians. They will look after me as Eriston and Etania have guided you, for at first I will know nothing of Diaspar and will have no memories of what I was before. Those memories will slowly return, at the end of my infancy, and I will build upon them as I move forward into my new cycle of existence.
     “That is the pattern of our lives, Alvin. We have all been here many, many times before, though as the intervals of nonexistence vary according to apparently random laws this present population will never repeat itself again. The new Jeserac will have new and different friends and interests, but the old Jeserac—as much of him as I wish to save—will still exist.
     “That is not all. At any moment, Alvin, only a hundredth of the citizens of Diaspar live and walk its streets. The vast majority slumber in the Memory Banks, waiting for the signal that will call them forth onto the stage of existence once again. So we have continuity, yet change—immortality, but not stagnation.
     “I know what you are wondering, Alvin. You want to know when you will recall the memories of your earlier lives, as your companions are already doing.
     “There are no such memories, for you are unique. We have tried to keep this knowledge from you as long as we could, so that no shadow should lie across your childhood—though I think you must have guessed part of the truth already. We did not suspect it ourselves until five years ago, but now there is no doubt.
     “You Alvin, are something that has happened in Diaspar a handful of times since the founding of the city. Perhaps you have been lying dormant in the Memory Banks through all the ages—or perhaps you were created only twenty years ago by some random permutation. You may have been planned in the beginning by the designers of the city, or you may be a purposeless accident of our own time.
     “We do not know. All that we do know is this: You, Alvin, alone of the human race, have never lived before. In literal truth, you are the first child to be born on Earth for at least ten million years.”

From THE CITY AND THE STARS by Arthur C. Clarke (1956)


It ain’t so much men’s ignorance that does the harm as their knowing so many things that ain’t so

A nice pseudo-mystical trope is the biggest barrier to more efficiently using your mind is getting rid of false data. In the same way that your knowledge of the fact "I cannot learn calculus because my brain cannot handle math" is preventing you from learning calculus; similar non-facts are preventing you from learning telepathy, precognition, and otherwise being a Jedi Knight.

Played for laughs is when the science fiction author has their characters look down upon those benighted fools living in the 2010s who were stupid enough to think that tobacco and food high in saturated fats were bad for you; the exact opposite of what science now knows to be true. Yes, this is a TV Trope.

More seriously there are hundreds of science fiction stories where faster-than-light starships were invented only after scientists in the future discovered that Einstein's relativity was not precisely correct. Characters in the story will commonly sadly shake their heads at our current-day scientists, comparing them to scientist in the 1600s who believed in phlogiston or other obsolete scientific theory.

In science fiction, protagonists who are adults struggle to overcome the false data they have learned in order to obtain a superior mentality. In extreme cases, this is impossible, the only thing that will work is teaching the right data from the start when the individual is a small child. The classic story here is Mimsy Were the Borogoves by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore.


[Luke sees his X-wing is about to sink into the bog]

Luke: Oh, no! We'll never get it out now!

Yoda: So certain, are you? Always with you, what cannot be done. Hear you nothing that I say?

Luke: Master, moving stones around is one thing, but this is... totally different!

Yoda: No! No different! Only different in your mind. You must unlearn what you have learned.

(The "cloud" is an intelligent alien creature whose body is a small space nebula, about one astronomical unit in diameter. It has to leave the solar system soon on a pressing errand, but it wants to leave us humans on Terra a bit of its wisdom)

      "...But there's another question that I want to ask." Kingsley then asked (the cloud) his question:
     "You will have noticed that we have made no attempt to ask for information concerning physical theories and facts that are not known to us. This omission was not due to any lack of interest, but because we felt ample opportunities would present themselves at a later stage. Now it appears that the opportunities will not present themselves. Have you any suggestions as to how we may occupy what little time remains to the best advantage?"
     The answer came:
     "This is a matter to which I have also given some attention. There is a crucial difficulty here. Our discussions have been carried out in your language. We have therefore been limited to ideas that can be understood in terms of your language, which is to say that we have been essentially limited to the things you know already. No rapid communication of radically new knowledge is possible unless you learn something of my language.
     "This raises two points, one of practice and the other the vital issue of whether the human brain possesses an adequate neurological capacity. To the latter question I know no certain answer, but there seems to be some evidence that justifies a measure of optimism...

     ...The Cloud resumed its message:
     "All this suggests that the human brain is inherently capable of a far improved performance, provided learning is always induced in the best way. And this is what I would propose to do. I propose that one or more of you should attempt to learn my method of thinking and that this be induced as profitably as possible. Quite evidently the learning process must lie outside your language, so that communication will have to proceed in a very different fashion. Of your sense organs, the best suited to the receiving of complex information is your eyes. It is true that you scarcely use the eyes in ordinary language, but it is mainly through the eyes that a child builds up his picture of the intricate world around him. And it is through the eyes that I intend to open up a new world to you.
     "My requirements will be comparatively simple. I will now describe them." Then followed technical details that were carefully noted by Leicester. When the Cloud had finished Leicester remarked:
     "Well, this isn't going to be too difficult. A number of filter circuits and a whole bank of cathode ray tubes."
     "But how are we to get the information?" asked Marlowe.
     "Well, of course primarily by radio, then through the discriminating circuits which filter different bits of the messages to the various tubes."
     "There are codes for the various filters."
     "That's right. So some sort of an ordered pattern can be put on the tubes, although it beats me as to what we shall be able to make of it."...

     ..."If everybody else is too bashful, I guess I'm willing to be first guinea pig." McNeil gave him a long look.
     "There's just one point, Weichart. You realise that this business may carry with it an element of danger? You're quite clear on that, I suppose?" Weichart laughed.
     "Don't worry about that. This won't be the first time I've spent a few hours watching cathode ray tubes."
     "Very well, then. If you're willing to try, by all means take the chair."
     Shortly after this, lights began to flash on the tubes...

     ..."How's it going, Dave?" No answer.
     "Hey, Dave, what's going on?"
     Still no answer.
     Marlowe and McNeil came one to each side of Weichart's chair.
     "Dave, why don't you answer?"
     McNeil touched him on the shoulder, but there was still no response. They watched his eyes, fixed on first one group of tubes, then flicking quickly to another.
     "What is it, John?" asked Kingsley.
     "I think he's in some hypnotic state. He doesn't seem to be noticing any sense data except from the eyes, and they seem to be directed only at the tubes."...

     ..."I don't like the position, Chris. His temperature is rising rapidly. There isn't much point in your going in to see him. He's not in a coherent state, and not likely to be with a temperature at 104°."
     "Have you any idea what's wrong?"
     "I obviously can't be sure, because I've never encountered a case like this before. But if I didn't know what had happened, I'd have said Weichart was suffering from an inflammation of brain tissue."
     "That's very serious, isn't it?"
     "Extremely so. There's very little that any of us can do for him, but I thought you'd like to know."
     "Yes, of course. Have you any idea what may have caused it?"
     "Well, I'd say too high a rate of working, too great a demand of the neurological system on all the supporting tissues. But again it's only an opinion." Weichart's temperature continued to rise during the day and in the late afternoon he died...

     ..."He's gone" announced the Irishman.
     "My God, what a dreadful tragedy, an unnecessary tragedy."
     "Aye, man, a bigger tragedy than you realise."
     "What d'you mean?"
     "I mean it was touch and go whether he saved himself. In the afternoon he was sane for nearly an hour. He told me what the trouble was. He fought it down and as the minutes passed I thought he was going to win out. But it wasn't to be. He got into another attack and it killed him."
     "But what was it?"
     "Something obvious, that we ought to have foreseen. What we didn't allow for was the tremendous quantity of new material which the Cloud seems able to impress on the brain. This of course means that there must be widespread changes of the structure of a mass of electrical circuits in the brain, changes of synaptic resistances on a big scale, and so on."
     "You mean it was a sort of gigantic brain-washing?"
     "No, it wasn't. That's just the point. There was no washing. The old methods of operation of the brain were not washed out. They were left unimpaired. The new was established alongside the old, so that both were capable of working simultaneously."
     "You mean that it was as if my knowledge of science were suddenly added to the brain of an ancient Greek."
     "Yes, but perhaps in a more extreme form. Can you imagine the fierce contradictions that would arise in the brain of your poor Greek, accustomed to such notions as the Earth being the centre of the Universe and a hundred and one other such anachronisms, suddenly becoming exposed to the blast of your superior knowledge?"
     "I suppose it would be pretty bad. After all we get quite seriously upset if just one of our cherished scientific ideas turns out wrong."
     "Yes, think of a religious person who suddenly loses faith, which means of course that he becomes aware of a contradiction between his religious and his non-religious beliefs. Such a person often experiences a severe nervous crisis. And Kingsley's case was a thousand times worse. He was killed by the sheer violence of his nervous activity, in a popular phrase by a serious of unimaginably fierce brain-storms." (death by cognitive dissonance)
     "But you said he nearly got over it."
     "That's right, he did. He realised what the trouble was and evolved some sort of plan for dealing with it. Probably he decided to accept as rule that the new should always supersede the old whenever there was trouble between them. I watched him for a whole hour systematically going through his ideas along some such lines. As the minutes ticked on I thought the battle was won. Then it happened. Perhaps it was some unexpected conjunction of thought patterns that took him unaware. At first the disturbance seemed small, but then it began to grow. He tried desperately to fight it down. But evidently it gained the upper hand — and that was the end. He died under the sedative I was forced to give him. I think it was a kind of chain reaction in his thoughts that got out of control."...
     "Don't you think Kingsley was a bad choice for this business? Wouldn't someone of a far slighter intellectual calibre have really been more suitable? If it was contradictions between the old knowledge and the new that destroyed him, then surely someone with very little old knowledge would have done better?" McNeil looked over his glass.
     "It's funny, it's funny you should say that. During one of his later sane spells Kingsley remarked — I'll try to remember his exact words — 'The height of irony', he said, 'is that I should experience this singular disaster, while someone like Joe Stoddard (the gardener, who has difficulty reading and writing) would have been quite all right'."

From THE BLACK CLOUD by Fred Hoyle (1957)

      In another of his talks Amschel gave forth on the primitive philosophical ideas of ancient times. The ancients, it seemed, had been ignorant of the five elements and so had also failed to understand the principle of blending or “commingling.” They had hypothesized that matter was composed of “atoms,” microscopic particles which were supposed to be indivisible and indestructible, and which stuck crudely together in innumerable combinations.

     “The theory is amusingly quaint,” Amschel remarked, “but unsound in the logical sense, and also it is hopelessly complicated. To account even at that time for all the qualities found in the world it was necessary to hypothesize more than a hundred different types of atom—and to reckon with all the substances known to present-day alchemy, no doubt another hundred would have to be added.

     “The same spirit of naive speculation governed astronomical ideas. At that period in history humanity was still restricted to one world, and there was no clear knowledge of the macrocosm generally. Ridiculous though it may seem to us, it was presumed that the home planet—which some say was called Earth—was the center of the macrocosm and that the whole of the heavens revolved around it. The other planets of the home system moved across the sky in ways that did not fit easily with this idea, of course, and a complicated, rather unwieldy system of wheels within wheels had to be devised on their behalf. These ‘epicycles,’ as they were known, may remind us of the equally artificial doctrine of ‘indivisible atoms.”

     “The philosophers who tried to explain nature on the basis of these speculations can have known little of the Hermetic art or of its goals. Even in that arid time, however, there were true alchemists, working in secret and possessing knowledge handed down since the time of Hermes Trismegistus.”

From STAR WINDS by Barrington Bayley (1978)

(ed note: Miles Monroe is put into suspended animation for 200 years, and discovers that Science Marches On)

      Dr. Melik: This morning for breakfast he requested something called "wheat germ, organic honey, and tiger's milk."
     Dr. Aragon: [chuckling] Oh, yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life-preserving properties.
     Dr. Melik: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or... hot fudge?
     Dr. Aragon: Those were thought to be unhealthy, precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.
     Dr. Melik: Incredible.

     Dr. Tryon: Here, smoke this. And be sure you get the smoke deep down into your lungs.
     Miles Monroe: I don't smoke!
     Dr. Tryon: It's tobacco! It's one of the healthiest things for your body.

From SLEEPER (1973)

      The Doctor: What? Do you understand Einstein?
     Parsons: Yes.
     The Doctor: What? And quantum theory?
     Parsons: Yes.
     The Doctor: What? And Planck?
     Parsons: Yes.
     The Doctor: What? And Newton?
     Parsons: Yes.
     The Doctor: What? And Schönberg?
     Parsons: Of course.
     The Doctor: You've got a lot to unlearn.


Mind Control

Mind control, now there's a concept guaranteed to frighten almost every rational being. The concept of brainwashing has been around since the 1950s. The concept of deprogramming a person back to quote "Normal" unquote is more recent. The fear is that future advances in technology will make brainwashing easier and more efficient.

There are also zillions of science fiction stories about alien parasites that burrow into a victim's body and take over control of their brain.

The movie Invaders from Mars used a less efficient technique, they surgically emplanted mind-control crystals into Earthlings to transform them into brainwashed agents. A similar technique was used in the movie Uchū Daisensō (Battle in Outer Space) to mind-control Dr. Ahmed.

In Babylon 5 people convicted of a capital crime were not put to death. Instead they suffered "Death Of Personality", where their personality was erased and imprinted with an artificial personality. The new personality was slanted to altruism and public service, so the new person would in a small way repay their debt to society. The old personality was gone, executed.

In the novel Dune, "Imperial Conditioning" rendered a person almost incapable of taking a human life. Such people were highly prized by leaders who have to deal almost daily with assasination attempts. Nice to have at least one person around that you can turn your back on.

In Damon Knight's Analogues series asocial behavior is dealt with by giving the person an "analogue", a mental imprint of an authority figure that intervenes whenever violent or otherwise harmful acts are contemplated. What you wind up with is a society where everybody is foaming-at-the-mouth insane on the inside, but their analogue forces them to act like they are sane. Things get really bad when the world splits into smaller nations, each with different definitions of what constitutes "asocial behavior." In one, not maxing out your credit card is considered asocial by the powers that be.

In Robert Heinlein's Coventry convicted criminals can undergo brainwashing or they can be sent to Coventry. This is a huge walled-off area where the rule of law does not apply. Dog-eat-dog, every man for themself.

In Tom Corbett: On The Trail Of The Space Pirates, people convicted of serious crimes have a choice of undergoing psychotherapeutic readjustment or exile for life on the Prison Asteroid. The asteroid dwellers can opt for psychoadjustment at any time, but most are such hard bitten criminals that they'd rather die.

In the ST:TAS Mudd's Passion at the end of the episode interstellar rogue Harcourt Fenton Mudd resignedly tells Mr. Spock he supposes he'll get rehabilitation therapy for his crimes, again. Spock says that he can guarantee it.

In Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange the sociopathic protagonist is convicted of first-degree murder. In exchange for commuting the rest of his prison sentence he agrees to undergo the Ludovico Technique. This is a species of aversion therapy to condition him to become severely ill at the mere thought of violence. Hilarity ensues.

In the Star Wars movies, Jedi Knights and Sith can use the force to implant suggestions into minds of the weak-willed. "These are not the droids you are looking for…"

In Phillip High's The Prodigal Sun, the police state control malcontents by brain programming. They are given a little book called Programme. It lists all the things they are forbidden to do or think. If they transgress, their brain programming gives them ten seconds of agonizing pain. They then have to frantically leaf through the book to figure out what they did wrong. By simple operant conditioning they will become perfect little police state drones after a couple of years of this.


      “As you collect more data, things happen within the data set that improves the quality of the model, which in turn improves the quality of the service,”
     Managing all of this data is Skinner, an artificial intelligence software named after the famous psychologist B.F. Skinner, that monitors different prompts it’s making to the customers on apps… Skinner’s all about learning what works for improving usage on an app or getting returning customers, and it optimizes those notifications as customers continue to use the app.
     The technology previously had a Bayesian assumption about how that strategy of reinforcement would work. “It updates its probability scenarios (beliefs) about how likely causal its past decisions were to create today’s behavior and then tweaks a parameter. At the 30-day mark, when experiments on all of our users turn over, it determines what appeared to matter and what could be changed to improve.”
     Essentially, the software now can learn how to improve user retention itself in each of the apps it’s working with…
     …If all of that sounds creepy, don’t worry… it is.
     There’s a lingering question in the back of my head about the morality of mind-gaming customers into coming back to an app or a site. Already, the industry struggles with the darker side of app and screen addiction.
     …founders argue that they reserve the right to deny service to specific companies whose work seems to be off the level, but, as with most tech these days, that’s a lot of power to put in one person’s hands.

Charles Stross said:

     Good grief.
     This technology is so unethical it needs to be criminalized globally, before it evolves into a Fermi Paradox solution.
     ... And I generally DON'T think banning technologies is a good idea. But this is like a neuroscience homebrew dirty nuke.
     Right now it's being used on games, taxi, social apps.
     But it could work even better on gambling apps. Radicalization tools for neo-Nazis, Islamic State. Political campaigns mobilizing glassy-eyed zombie footsoldiers. Cryptocurrencies engineered for addiction. Pyramid schemes.
     Which just cut the cost of entry from $BIGNUM (and employ your own PhD team) to plug-in-an-app-library-and-go.

by Jonathan Shieber (2017)

(ed note: Our hero Junior Lieutenant Flandry is given a boring space scouting mission. He is contacted by an alien named Ammon who is an organized crime kingpin of Flandary's acquaintance. Ammon has an illegal but lucrative deal. The alien wants Flandry to do a side jaunt to check out a barren planet rumored to have valuable deposits of minerals. Flandry accepts. Ammon will send an agent named Djana with Flandry to keep him honest. Djana is a low-ranking geisha.

Meanwhile Ammon's rival Rax, another crime kingpin, has gotten wind of the scheme. He surprises Djana, and gives her an offer. Lots of money in exchange for betraying Ammon and Flandry, and giving the scout results to Rax.

      "After Flandry is your prisoner, you will steer the boat through a volume whose coordinates will be given you," Rax finished. "This will bring you within detection range of a ship belonging to us, which will make rendezvous and take you aboard. Your reward will go to a million credits."
     "I see." Djana sat a while longer, thinking her way forward. At last she looked up and said: "You do tempt me. But I'll be honest, I'm scared. I know damn well I'm being watched, ever since I agreed to do this job, and Leon might take it into his head to give me a narcoquiz. You know?"
     "This has also been provided for." Rax pointed. "Behind yonder door is a hypnoprobe with amnesiagenic attachments. I am expert in its use. If you agree to help us for the compensation mentioned, you will be shown the rendezvous coordinates and memorize them. Thereafter your recollection of this night will be driven from your consciousness."
     "What?" It was as if a hand closed around Djana's heart. She sagged back into her chair. The cigarette dropped from cold fingers.
     "Have no fears," the goblin said. "Do not confuse this with zombie-making. There will be no implanted compulsions, unless you count a posthypnotic suggestion making you want to explore Flandry's mind and persuade him to show you how to operate the boat. You will simply awaken tomorrow in a somewhat disorganized state, which will soon pass except that you cannot remember what happened after you arrived here. The suggestion will indicate a night involving drugs, and the money in your purse will indicate the night was not wasted. I doubt you will worry long about the matter, especially since you are soon heading into space."
     "I—well—I don't touch the heavy drugs, Rax—"
     "Perhaps your client spiked a drink. To continue: Your latent memories will be buried past the reach of any mere narcoquiz. Two alternative situations will restimulate them. One will be an interview where Flandry has told Ammon Wayland is worthless. The other will be his telling you, on the scene, that it is valuable. In either case, full knowledge will return to your awareness and you can take appropriate action."
     Djana shook her head. "I've seen … brain-channeled … brain-burned—no," she choked. Every detail in the room, a checkerboard pattern on a lounger, a moving wrinkle on Rax's face, the panels of the inner door, stood before her with nightmare sharpness. "No. I won't."
     "I do not speak of slave conditioning," the other said. "That would make you too inflexible. Besides, it takes longer than the hour or so we dare spend. I speak of a voluntary bargain with us which includes your submitting to a harmless cue-recall amnesia."
     Djana rose. The knees shook beneath her. "You, you, you could make a mistake. No. I'm going. Let me out." She reached into her purse.
     She was too late. The slugthrower had appeared. She stared down its muzzle. "If you do not cooperate tonight," Rax told her, "you are dead. Therefore, why not give yourself a chance to win a million credits? They can buy you liberation from what you are."

From A CIRCUS OF HELLS by Poul Anderson (1970)

(ed note: David Falkayn, Adzel, and Chee Lan are one of the best trader teams employed by Nicholas van Rijn. David is human, Adzel looks like a horse-sized dragon, Chee looks like a large cat. David visits Serendipity Incorporated (SI) on behalf of van Rijn, hiring them to find something commercially valuable. They find something so valuable that they kidnap David and brain scrub him in order to keep the secret. Adzel and Chee get worried after a week and contact van Rijn)

      "What else could we do?" Adzel groaned. "David may be under psychocontrol. We suspect it, Chee and I. But we have no proof. For anyone who does not know him personally, the weight of credibility is overwhelming on the opposite side, so great that I myself can reach no firm conclusion about what has really happened. More is involved than Serendipity's established reputation. There is the entire covenant. Members of the League do not kidnap and drug each other's agents. Not ever!"
     "I doubt if we have a month, regardless," Chee said. "Think. Suppose Dave has been brainscrubbed. They'll've done it to keep him from reporting to you what he learned from their damned machine. They'll pump him for information and advice too. Might as well. But he is evidence against them. Any medic can identify his condition and cure it. So as soon as possible — or as soon as necessary — they'll get rid of the evidence. Maybe send him off in a spaceship, with his new fiancée to control him. Maybe kill him and disintegrate the body. I don't see where Adzel and I had any alternative except to investigate as we did. Nevertheless, our investigations will probably cause SI to speed up whatever timetable it's laid out for Captain Falkayn."

(ed note: van Rijn send Adzel and Chee to do a raid on SI's lunar castle. Adzel wears a combat space suit and penetrates the castle. As the guards run around in confusion he quietly follows the SI lady Thea Beldaniel, who leads him straight to David)

     She came to a door and flung it wide. Adzel peeked around the jamb. Falkayn sat in the chamber beyond, slumped into a lounger. The woman hurried to him and shook him. "Wake up!" she cried. "Oh, hurry!"
     "Huh? Uh. Whuzza?" Falkayn stirred. His voice was dull, his expression dead.
     "Come along, darling. We must get out of here."
     "Uhhh…" Falkayn shambled to his feet.
     "Come, I say!" She tugged at his arm. He obeyed like a sleepwalker. "The tunnel to the spaceport. We're off for a, a little trip, my dear. But run!"
     Adzel identified the symptoms. Brainscrub drugs, yes, in their entire ghastliness. You submerged the victim into a gray dream where he was nothing but what you told him to be. You could focus an encephaloductor beam on his head and a subsonic carrier wave on his middle ear. His drowned self could not resist the pulses thus generated; he would carry out whatever he was told, looking and sounding almost normal if you operated him skillfully but in truth a marionette. Otherwise he would simply remain where you stowed him.
     In time, you could remodel his personality.
     Adzel trod full into the entrance. "Now that is too bloody much!" he roared.
     Thea Beldaniel sprang back. Her scream rose, went on and on. Falkayn stood hunched.
     A yell answered, through the hallways. My mistake, Adzel realized. Perhaps not avoidable. But the guards have been summoned, and they have more armament than I do. Best we escape while we may.
     Nonetheless, van Rijn's orders had been flat and loud. "You get films of our young man, right away, and you take blood and spit samples, before anything else. Or I take them off you, hear me, and not in so polite a place neither!" It seemed foolish to the Wodenite, when death must arrive in a minute or two. But so rarely did the old man issue so inflexible a directive that Adzel decided he'd better obey.
     "Excuse me, please." His tail brushed the shrieking woman aside and pinned her gently but irresistibly to the wall. He tabled his camera, aimed it at Falkayn, set it on Track, and left it to work while he used needle and pipette on the flesh that had been his comrade. (And would be again, by everything sacred, or else be honorably dead!) Because he was calm about it, the process took just a few seconds. He stowed the sample tubes in a pouch, retrieved the camera, and gathered Falkayn in his arms.

(ed note: flying away from the castle with their rescued comrade, Adzel and Chee are agast when van Rijn tells them not to go to a hospital. Instead he orders Adzel to go to Luna city, and Chee to fly with David in their starship to the place SI was trying to steal. van Rijn tells Chee that she can cure David on the trip out.)

     "Look here, you fat pirate, my shipmate's drugged, hurt, sick! If you think for one picosecond he's going anywhere except to a hospital, I suggest you pull your head — the pointed one, that is — out of a position I would hitherto have sworn was anatomically impossible, and — "
     "Whoa down, my furry friendling, easy makes it. From what you describe, his condition is nothing you can't cure en route. We fixed you with a complete kit and manual for unscrubbing minds and making them dirty again, not so? And what it cost, yow, would stand your hair on end so it flew out of the follicles! Do listen. This is big. Serendipity puts its whole existing on stake for whatever this is. We got to do the same."

(ed note: Long before they reach their destination David is cured. But he is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.)

     Stop that, you nit! Falkayn told himself. You're getting spooked. Understandable, when Chee had to spend most of our voyage time nursing me out of half-life —
     His mind halted. He gasped for air. The horror of what had been done to him came back in its full strength. All stars receded to an infinite radius. He crouched alone in blackness and ice.
     And yet he could not remember clearly what the enslavement of his mind had been like. It was as if he tried to reconstruct a fever dream. Everything was vague and grotesque; time twisted smokily about, dissolved and took new evanescent shapes; he had been trapped in another universe and another self, and they were not his own, and he could not bring himself to confront them again in memory, even were he able. He had desired Thea Beldaniel as he had desired no other woman since his first youth; he had adored the undefined Elder Race as he had adored no gods in his life; he had donned a cool surface and a clear logical mind at need, and afterward returned to his dim warm abyss. Yet somehow it was not he who did these things, but others. They used him, entered and wore him…How could he find revenge for so inward a rape?
     That last thought was born as a solitary spark in his night. He seized it, held it close, blew his spirit upon it and nursed it to flame. Fury followed, blinding as yonder great sun, burning him clean again. He might have been reliving ancient incarnations as he swung a Viking ax, galloped torch in hand on a Tartar pony, unleashed the guns that smash cities to rubble. It gave strength, which in turn gave sanity.
     Minutes after the seizure began, he was calm once more. His muscles slackened their hurtful knots, pulse and breath slowed, the sweat dried on him though he was aware of its lingering sourness.
     Falkayn turned to Chee Lan, who hunkered in her own chair — it looked more like a spiderweb — on his right. She must have sensed it when the horror came upon him but, characteristically, decided not to intervene.

From SATAN'S WORLD by Poul Anderson (1968)

(ed note: The Borthud are nasty aliens who have a shortage of trained starship crewmen. So they have instituted a policy of capturing human starships and brainwashing the crews into working for them. Torres is the leader of the human starship crew union, and they are fed up with their brothers and sisters being kidnapped and mind controlled. He is presenting an ultimatum to Nicholas van Rijn, the CEO of Solar Spice and Liquor.)

Torres' temper snapped across. "Go flush your dirty financial calculations! Try thinking about human beings for once. We'll face meteoroid swarms, infrasuns, rogue planets, black holes, radiation bursts, hostile natives— but have you met one of those impressed men? I have. That's what decided me, and made me take a lead in getting the Brotherhood to act. I'm not going to risk it happening to me, nor to any lodge sibling of mine. Why don't you and your fellow moneymen conn the ships personally?"

"Ho-o-o," murmured van Rijn. He showed no offense, but leaned across the desk on his forearms. "You tell me, ha?"

Torres must force the story out. "Met him on Arkan III— on the fringe of the Kossaluth, autonomous planet, you recall. We'd put in with a consignment of tea. A ship of theirs was in too, and you can bet your brain we went around in armed parties, ready to shoot any Borthudian who might look like a crimp. Or any Borthudian at all; but they kept to themselves. Instead, I saw him, this man they'd snatched, going on some errand. I spoke to him. My friends and I even tried to capture him, so we could bring him back to Earth and get reversed what that electronic hell-machine had done to him— He fought us and got away. God! He'd've been more free if he were in chains. And still I could feel how he wanted out, he was screaming inside, but he couldn't break the conditioning and he couldn't go crazy either— "

Torres grew aware that van Rijn had come around the desk and was thrusting a bottle into his hand. "Here, you drink some from this," the merchant said. The liquor burned the whole way down. "I have seen a conditioned man myself once, long ago when I was a rough-and-tumbler. A petty native prince had got it done to him, to keep him for a technical expert when he wanted to go home. We did catch him that time, and took him back for treatment." He returned to his chair and rekindled his pipe. "First, though, we got together with the ship's engineer and made us a little firecracker what we blew off at the royal palace." He chuckled. "The yield was about five kilotons."

From MARGIN OF PROFIT by Poul Anderson (1956)

(ed note: Captain Steve Strong and the three space cadets travel to the Prison Asteroid to ask questions of criminal mastermind Bull Coxine.)

      "What's your business here?" demanded the voice again.
     "Interrogation of one of your prisoners. We have sent a coded message, under code Z for Zebra to your prison commandant, Major Alan Savage. If you'll check with him, you'll find everything in order," said Strong.
     "Very well," replied the voice crisply, and then added, "Remain where you are. Do not move from your present position or attempt to send any messages. If you fail to comply with these conditions you will be blasted!"
     "Very well," said Strong, "conditions are understood."
     "Boy," chimed in Roger, as he climbed down the ladder from the radar bridge, "they sure don't want any company here."
     "And for good reason," said Strong. "The most vicious criminals in the whole universe are confined here. Every one of them is capable of committing any crime in the solar code. And most of them have. The men here are the worst. They have refused psychotherapeutic readjustment to make them into new men."
     "But I thought they had to go through it, sir?" said Tom.
     "No," replied Strong. "Even criminals have certain rights in our society. They can either remain criminals and stay here, or be psychoadjusted and given new personalities. The ones that refuse are the ones on this Rock."
     "You mean," gasped Roger, "that the men on this asteroid deliberately chose to remain criminals?"
     "Yes, Manning," said Strong. "Rather than become healthy citizens of the system, they prefer to stay here and waste their lives in isolation with no hope of ever returning to society."
     "Can they change their minds after they get here?" asked Tom.
     "Any time. But when they get this far, they usually stay here. The men on Prison Rock didn't surrender easily. They are the toughest, most ruthless men in the universe."

From ON THE TRAIL OF THE SPACE PIRATES by Carey Rockwell (1953)

(ed note: The police state control malcontents by brain programming)

      He, himself, had no cause for complaint. The authorities had not only granted him second-class citizenship, but had bent over backwards to find him suitable employment. The move was, he suspected, a deliberate policy of appeasement. Keep the returning veterans happy until such a time as we can deal with them as individuals.
     Gaynor found that his hands were clenched nervously. One day they'd come for him. He'd seen enough and heard enough to know what would happen.
     There would be no violence, no threats, no shouting, no rubber truncheons.
     The two quiet callers—there were always two—would seem to vie with each other in unnatural politeness: "If you would be good enough to accompany us, sir;" or "The district Supervisor would be grateful…"
     No one knew quite what happened after that. The unfortunate man or woman left the Security building apparently normal and without worry, sometimes, even, looking happy and relieved. When one paid a visit the next day, however, the apartment would be occupied by a stranger. There would be no message and no forwarding address.
     Oh, yes, you knew what had happened then, your friend had been programed and, if you were wise, you departed hastily lest you be branded as an associate.
     No one of the normal population quite knew what programing was. You knew it was something the psych boys had cooked up. You knew it was a kind of conditioning. But after that you could only guess.
     Where did they go? There were no concentration camps, but yes there were the untouchables, the lowest strata of society, but these, apparently were free or at least they walked the streets like other men.
     There was another story he had heard. On programing you were given a little black book, a little black book with the word "Programme" on the cover. You clung to the book as if its possession meant more than food or drink or the air you breathed. Cynics referred to it as "The Bible of the Damned."

(ed note: the security guard Hengist happens to be present when the Kraft, head of the Secret Police, is humiliated. Unbeknown to Hengist, Kraft lashes out by condemning Hengist to be programmed. Hengist thinks he just dosed off in a chair, but actually he has been brain programmed. He doesn't realize it until he opens his packet of orders. )

     In the hutch-like, all-purpose room he pulled out the recessed table and the wall-chair and sat down. Might as well look at the official junk before he dialed a quick meal. Usually officialdom justified its existence by repetition and pompously phrased orders designed to impress the recipient officer with the sternness of his task.
     Hengist sighed, slit the end of the long official envelope and tipped out the contents.
     There were no official forms, only blank folded sheets of paper. What the hell?
     He leaned forward, between two of the sheets was a small printed card. He picked it up, held it between thumb and forefinger, and studied it, frowning:
The enclosed booklet is your assurance of well-being. It is provided to help you adjust to the new conditions you will be compelled to face. Its possession assures of an answer to any question which may arise in your mind. It is a guide to your future mental and physical behavior patterns.
     The card slipped from Hengist's fingers and fluttered to the floor. He was conscious of a prickling dampness on his forehead and a remote constricting coldness in his stomach. His body felt detached as if he were controlling it at a distance and his vision seemed blurred and out of focus.
     With numb fingers he pushed the blank faceless papers shakily to one side. Beneath them was a small black book. Printed in red on the cover was the single word: PROGRAMME.
     Hengist stared fixedly at the black book with the curious feeling he was unable to move his eyes from side to side.
     Programed? Apart from shock he felt no different but he was suddenly aware that even he had no idea what programing was.
     Fumblingly he turned back the cover.
     Printed on the flysheet was a short note of identification and grim advice:
This book is the property of David Korvin Hengist (here—in after known as the patient), non-citizen, P-5-228G. The patient must understand that because of his inability to conform to present society he is mentally sick and has, therefore, been referred for treatment. This treatment is not a punishment for misdemeanor but a comprehensive therapy designed to restore him to normal society.
It is advised, therefore, that the patient familiarize himself with this book for his own immediate well-being and a swift return to normal life.
Period of treatment: Seven Years.
     Hengist closed the book slowly and sat down. Gradually his mind was losing its numbness and beginning to function normally. In the waiting room it had been done, during the period when he thought he'd been dozing. A whiff of hypno-gas through the conditioner and he'd been trussed and ready.
     A sudden anger rose within him. They'd known but they'd acted slyly, creeping up behind him to steal his life and never told him why.
     And Ralston had smiled. Smiled because he knew, because he was a sadist, because it pleased him to smile and because he was enjoying the joke.
     He'd been with Ralston on a tour of inspection when a man had gone berserk in the street and hurled himself at Ralston with a length of pointed metal in his hand.
     He, Hengist, had interposed his own body between the berserk and his superior officer and club-gunned the man just in time but he'd taken three inches of pointed metal in his own shoulder.
     Ralston had smiled—smiled. He wished he'd helped the berserk man. He wished…
     The pain seemed to start in the center of his brain and press downward against the back of his eyes. His vision blurred, panting he fell to his knees, both hands pressed to the sides of his head.
     Slowly the pain turned to a dull burning and he pulled himself shakily to his feet. His whole body was soaked with perspiration and he was beset with an unnatural weakness.
     He leaned against the wall, slowly beginning to understand. This was part of what they had done to him. This was—part of the programme. Somewhere within the pages of the small black book this pain had meaning.
     Numbly he reopened it. Pain, where was pain? On the first page he found a printed index.
     Pain: Causes of…62…
     He turned the pages almost in a frenzy. The patient experiences psychosomatic pain when his thoughts, actions or emotions are contrary to the therapeutic plan designed to restore him to health and his rightful place in society.
     To determine the exact cause of pain, the patient must recall his thoughts or actions at time of onset. In all cases he will discover that he, himself, induced the attack by thought or action contrary to the plan for his recovery. It is advised, therefore, that the patient read the book thoroughly in order to determine his point of departure from the programme of rehabilitation.
     Hengist sat down in the hard chair and turned over the pages. It took him nearly four minutes to find the answer. The patient is forbidden to harbor thoughts of revenge against society, Security Officers or registered officials. All Officers of the Administration work for the patient's well-being.
     In order to aid his recovery the patient must learn to reject these sick thoughts and cultivate the correct ones of appreciation and gratitude.
     Gratitude! Hengist felt his face flush with impotent fury. Of all the cynical hypocritical…
     This time he whimpered when he fell to his knees. When he climbed unsteadily to his feet some three minutes later he picked up the book and forced himself to begin at the beginning.
     The patient will vacate his living quarters within five hours and report to the nearest rehabilitation center. (A list of such centers may be found on page 210 of appendix). The patient will list his personal possessions and surrender them to the rehabilitation officer.
     Hengist's mouth twisted bitterly. No one would come to remove him. Procedure demanded that he throw himself out on his ear. Something would hit him right between the eyes if he didn't.
     Give up all his possessions—did that include his gun? He'd be glad to give that up to the first creep he met. He'd have his finger ready on the trigger.
     The agonizing cramp which suddenly twisted his arm almost out of shape brought a moan of pain from his lips.
     The patient is forbidden to possess weapons.
     Shaking with ,the aftermath of pain, he dialed for a stiff drink. How much of this sort of thing was a man supposed to take?
     With some difficulty he brought the glass to his lips and tipped the liquor down his throat.
     The pain which hit his stomach almost folded him in half. Sweat trickled down his face as he vomited the liquor back.
     The patient is forbidden the use of drugs, stimulants or alcohol.
     Holding himself upright by the table, he fumbled a cigarette from his breast pocket. He dropped it twice before he was able to flick off the plastic tip. God, much more of this and…
     He coughed at the first puff. He coughed until the tears were running from his eyes and the air wheezed painfully in his lungs.
     The patient may not smoke.
     Wearily he sat down. The pattern was clear now—compulsive conditioning. Whatever he did or, for that matter, considered doing was contrary to the 'programme.' It triggered off a pain reaction. Under hypnosis his future conduct had been shaped for him within a comprehensive reflex action. If he departed from the programme in thought or deed, pain would kick him back again.
     In six months he would be walking and thinking as delicately as a cat on a high wire, afraid to digress from his impressed conduct pattern by a fraction of an inch.
     Within a year he would believe it was for his own good.
     In two years he would be begging permission to thank both Kaft and Ralston for their kindness in referring him for treatment.
     At the end of his treatment it wouldn't matter. He'd be fixed in a thought and behavior pattern which nothing could break until the end of his life.
     He straightened. They thought. Not to him, definitely not to him. He still had the gun, he'd lived by it now, damn them, he'd get the last laugh by dying by it.
     The convulsion arched him backwards, twisted his limbs and tossed him helpless and whimpering into the corner of the room. Finger nails scrabbled at the floor, froth trickled from the corners of his mouth…
     Attempts at self-destruction are primary symptoms of the patient's mental state and must be resisted with every effort of the will.

     "That I believe." Gaynor nodded quickly. "The Administration is so terrified of its own shadow that it is programing some of its best men."
     "I agree up to a point but in that respect it would be unwise to take the narrow view. The Administration, in this sphere, is singularly efficient and far-seeing instrument of policy. Have you considered that in five years the Administration will have ten million organic robots quite single-minded and incapable of revolt. In ten years it will have thirty million, fanatically determined to do what they're told and, for that matter, incapable of doing otherwise."

From THE PRODIGAL SUN by Philip E. High (1964)


There is a tradition in science fiction stories of people pretending that they have magic powers but are actually using high-tech devices hidden about their person. TV Tropes calls this Magic from Technology. To give them their due, some use tech that is so high it invokes Clarke's Third Law, so the question of whether this is fakery or not is moot. If a technomage can point their finger and the target is incinerated by lightning, does it matter if it was done with a magic spell or with a miniaturized particle beam weapon? Incinerated is incinerated.

A related concept is Magitek.

Examples include:

THE SIXTH COLUMN by Robert Heinlein (under name Anson MacDonald)
     This was Heinlein re-working an unpublished story called "All" by John W. Campbell.
     The United States is conquered by an Asian Empire called PanAsia. But at the last moment, a hidden military lab makes a scientific breakthrough. The lab now has the secret to weapons of Doc Smithian power and other cool gadgets. Unfortunately they are only seven men in a nation occupied by zillions of PanAsia troops. What can they do?
     The scientists want to start an underground rebellion. But you need large groups to spread the conspiracy, and the Empire has forbidden large gatherings. However there is one loophole: religious worship allows large gatherings. The asians know how touchy an occupied nation is about their religions.
     So the scientists invent a crazy religion with ridiculous deities. The asians don't notice anything odd since this new religion looks just as inscrutable as the other US religions. The occupied populance can see this is odd, but the religious services offer a free lunch. The high tech devices can do things like cure cancer and other diseases, which also attracts "worshipers." The congregations soon notice things such as all the hymns are being to the tune of forbidden US patriotic songs. And the sermons are full of dog-whistles about undercover resistance. The priests are on the look out for particularly intelligent and motivated members of the congregation. They are vetted and recruited into the rebellion.
     For "religious" reasons the priests have to wear large floppy robes with turbans, to allow more space to hide high-tech devices hidden about their person. The turbans conceal communciation devices, and a bit of tech that makes the illusion of a halo. Their sacred walking staffs are energy projectors, emitting rays that can heal, transmute lead into gold, and disintegrate. Since the staffs are important to the religion this gets around the PanAsian ban on weapons. Their belts contain a force field generator.
     When the final battle occurs, there is a particularly striking image. For psychological purposes, they use a holographic feature to create the illusion of one of the priests as tall as a skyscraper, sending rays of death and destruction into the PanAsia troops.
ALL by John W. Campbell, Jr.
This is Campbell story that Heinlein reworked into The Sixth Column. In Heinlein's version the rebellion is using a scam religion as a cover. In Campbell's version the leaders of the rebellion actually seem to believe that their made-up religion is true, and they are the incarnation of the made-up deities. Heinlein included one of the leaders going insane and believing they are a god, perhaps as a commentary on Campbell's version. Also of significance is Heinlein naming the character "Calhoun". As editor of Astounding, Campbell would not accept science fiction stories where space aliens were in any way superior to Earthmen.
In the Babylon 5 TV show, Technomages use high-tech to create the illusion of magic. But since their technology can do things like spy on everybody within several kilometers, cure disease, vaporize people with balls of fire, infiltrate and hack any computer system in existence, and create killer nanotechnology; it is safest to just treat them like real wizards.
In the Captain Future universe, our hero's arch enemy is Ul Quorn, the Magician of Mars. This super villain creates all sorts of high tech weapons and gadgets with effects that seem like magic. All the better to impress the superstitious rubes.
DEATHWORLD 2 by Harry Harrison
On the old abandoned Terran colony the level of technology has regressed to about medieval level. But some of the clans have "magic" powers, jealously guarded. The d'zertanoj clan alone knows how to pump petroleum and distill gasoline from it (though they call it the Water-of-Power). The Trozelligoj clan alone has the secret of building gasoline steam-engine powered carts (the engines contain containers of poison gas to discourage reverse-engineering). The Hertug clan has a monopoly on electricity, so can send telegraph messages, yank soldier's swords with electromagnets, and make crude electric lights. The Mastreguloj clan knows chemistry so they can make fire that burns in water, smoke that will burn the lungs, water that will burn the flesh (acid), and so forth.
THE FIRES OF PARATIME by L. E. Modesitt, Jr.
The Time Guards (who have names like Loki and Odinthor) have wrist gauntlets that can throw deadly thunderbolts and carry miniature antimatter bombs. However, since they have the inate ability to travel in time and teleport, it becomes debatable whether they are pretend or real wizards.
The extragalactic alien Korob appears to be a human dressed in wizard robes and possessing magical powers. In reality he is a one decameter tall creature with a squid face. And all his magic powers come from a magic wand shaped technological item called a Transmuter.
Arguably Oz the Great and Terrible falls into this catagory. Certainly the giant head with shooting flames qualifies as a prop designed to convince people you have magic powers.

(ed note: Ul Quorn, the evil Magician of Mars, is the arch-enemy of the heroic Captain Future {Curt}. Future has disguised himself as one of Quorn's crew {Xexel} using blue skin-dye. Unfortunately Quorn suspects Future.)

      A bright yellow light suddenly played around Curt Newton's head. He turned, surprised Ul Quorn was holding a tubular lamp whose yellow beam was turned on Curt’s face.
     “Why, what —" Curt started to ask bewilderedly in shrill tones.
     Ul Quorn handed the lamp to N’Rala, its yellow beam continuing to bathe Curt's head. A triumphant flare lit the eyes of the mixed breed.
     “So we finally meet again, Captain Future," he said softly.
     "Are you crazy, Chief? " blurted Thikar amazedly. "That's old Xexel."
     " Look at his face,” snapped Quorn. "The fluoric beam cuts through the inorganic blue stain he's put on it. You can see for yourself. "

     Curt realized that his imposture was a thing of the past. Under the fluoric yellow beam, his own tanned face showed through the blue stain. Instantly, Curt snatched for the proton pistol inside his jacket.
     Captain Future's draw was legendary in its phenomenal swiftness. But this time, Ul Quorn was swifter.
     The Magician of Mars drew no weapon. Instead, he simply extended his hands toward Curt. From his outstretched fingers shot red rays of crackling energy. They struck Captain Future, and he felt a paralyzing electric shock that froze him in the very act of drawing his weapon.

     “Get his gun, Thikar,” snapped Quorn. “And then cover him — he'll recover in about ten minutes.”
     The brutal Jovian snatched the proton pistol from Curt’s hand. And Curt could not resist. His whole body was paralyzed by that shock. Ul Quorn stood enjoying his triumph a striking figure in his striped Martian turban and yellow-sleeved purple robe.

     “Your famous draw is slow compared to my electrostatic finger rays, Captain Future,” he mocked. "They're my newest weapon. The charge of energy comes from a compact electrostatic battery inside my robe. When I extend my hands full length, a contact is made which allows the electric charge to flash along wires in my sleeves, and radiate from tiny wires that are attached on the under side of my fingers.

     “You see, a weapon like this is not only swift — it enormously impresses people by its seeming magic.

     Curt Newton made no answer. He could not speak, paralyzed as his muscles were by the stunning electric shock. But his gray eyes flamed.

From THE MAGICIAN OF MARS by Edmond Hamilton (1969)

(ed note: In the novel the protagonist and the villain use an amusing bit of technobabble called the Release Flame. It is a handwaving method of converting iron into energy. I suppose Campbell chose Iron-56 because it is at the basin of the binding energy curve, but I digress. The point is the handwaving Release Flame produces unreasonable amounts of energy and can be set to produce the energy in convenient forms: electricity, magnetism, electromagnetic waves, gravity waves, etc.

Anyway anti-hero Atkill manages to get his ship thrown through a space warp to an alien solar system and all his release flames are snuffed out. The ship has no power, though he manages to jury-rig a solar power unit. If there are technologically inclined aliens in the system who have space ships, they can rescue him. Assuming he can convince them that Atkill is a superior being and not something the aliens can butcher for food.

So Atkill is making Release Flame powered miniature gadgets that he will hide about his person in order to fool the aliens into thinking he is some kind of demigod with magic powers.)

      And curiously, from that time Atkill’s observations became fewer and fewer. He spent all his time in the machine shop now. Making something. Texas watched quietly, and played cards. It was evidently a release-flame apparatus — but a tiny thing. Scarcely larger than a book.
     “Be any power in that when you get through?” he asked once.
     “Not unless I can get it started somehow after we are picked up. Then about thirty thousand horsepower. The Flame could give more. A million or so. The apparatus wouldn’t handle it.”
     Atkill worked on, refining and adding to the tiny mechanism, calculating fields and effects and building it into the apparatus. He changed the entire apparatus finally, and made it almost hemispherical, with a depression on the flat side. On one side however seven tiny openings appeared, and one cup-shaped device the size of a quarter-dollar. Nine thin wires dangled from it to a broad, thick bracelet of silver, set with a score of brilliant colored bits of stone cut with infinite pains on a device he set up himself. The rings and stickpins of the dead gangsters had furnished those stones. His own magnificent emerald stickpin had gone into it too. And also several synthetic stones he made by fusing aluminum oxide and adding minute traces of various materials — chromium, nickel, cobalt — He smiled to himself as he worked and hummed a tune softly. Week followed week as he worked lovingly over his little mechanism. He seemed to expect great things of it.

(ed note: Atkill cannot ignite his release-flame because it needs a 16 megavolt electrical discharge but biggest open space inside the ship is only 10 meters. And they have no airlock. However, over the last month the huge star they are orbiting has bombarded the ship with solar electrons so the hull has quite a charge. Atkill rigs a discharge rod attached to his release-flame apparatus. When an alien ship comes, it will have to touch its equivalent of a discharge rod to Atkill's, and the charge will ignite Atkill's release flame.

When the alien ships show up, Atkill makes hurried arrangements.)

     Atkill was busy with something else now. A robe he had made. It was made of the thick, strong silk sheets he had brought with him. They were pure white, beautifully clear, and the robe was made with a surprising skill. It draped about his powerful figure gracefully, caught at arms and shoulder with three clasps of highly polished stainless steel, set with more of the magnificent gems he had synthesized, and cut.
     On one side lay a turban-like head-dress he had made, wound of silk dyed with a slightly fluorescent dye, with the result that in the light of this sun, rich as it was in ultra-violet, it shone of its own accord with a rich, brilliant scarlet. It was a magnificent headpiece.
     Finally a sash was added, one of magnificent, deep purple, clasped with a metal device shaped like twin crocodile heads, their eyes four gleaming stones as deep in color as the sash, touched with a trace of pomegranate.
     “I heard some sky-pilot say that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like this here guy. I don’t know who this Solomon was right well, but you sure got him beat,” grinned Texas. “That what you been working on so hard?”
     Atkill looked at him pityingly. “It’s a shame to disturb his mind. Tex, brace yourself. You’ve got to wear a rig like this too.”
     “Me? Me wear that? Hombre, you got wrong ideas,” affirmed Texas.
     “Tex, if you don’t wear one of these, we are extremely apt to die promptly and unpleasantly. I’d rather convince the populace that we are strange and wonderful gods than have them believe us strange and delectable foods, perhaps. You know, they may have a domestic animal that looks something like us, and is considered a delicacy — like chicken or something. In that case we would be in an unpleasant situation unless we could change their opinions.
     “So stimulate that thing you call your ability to reason, and don these garments.” Atkill extended a similar turban and robe to Texas, but these were made of fine linen instead of silk. The turban was not-unpleasant green, and the sash black as night, held with a stainless steel clasp set with a single blood-red stone.

(ed note: the discharge ignites the release-flame. Both Atkill's ship and the high-tech devices hidden about his person now have full power)

     Atkill straightened instantly, ripped off the five leads, dropped them into a box, and ran to his room — dove, rather, for the ship was still weightless. In an incredibly short time he had fixed his little rounded mechanism to clamps in the framework of the turban, snapped the lead-wires into their jacks, concealed the wires in his loose sleeve, and donned the jeweled bracelet.
     He was a magnificent figure of a man, the white robe, the brilliant turban glowing softly with scarlet light, his tall, powerful body erect and commanding. His features were powerful and rugged, his black eyes snapping with life and energy. Slowly he lowered his arms and beckoned to the strange ship.
     “Now what in hell is that thing?” demanded the horrified Tex.
     “That is our new friend,” replied, Atkill calmly. “He saved your life — course he didn’t mean to, but he did. Now remember what your mother told you, Tex, never stare at freaks. Be grateful to the little — monstrosity, shall we say? He did you a good turn, and I plan to be the high Muckamuck among them presently. You are about to see the powers of my new head-dress. Never learned what it was for, did you? Watch!”
     Atkill folded his powerful arms across his chest, and scowled. He scowled at a chair that was clamped to the floor near him. About his head a misty, bluish light appeared; it projected forward somewhat — but hung close to his head. And suddenly — half the chair puffed away into nothingness! “Now that — thair’s a right cute trick,” said Texas in admiration. “If I didn’t know the secret it shore would take me in. Got any more?”
     Atkill’s face relaxed, his arms fell to his sides, and he laughed. “Lots, Tex, lots. It will work a lot quicker when I want it to.

     Atkill lowered his ship in a swift dive, then turned abruptly and landed like a feather just beside the cradle. Instantly a troop of guards arranged themselves about the ship, a small party of higher officers in resplendent clothes marched forward.
     “I greet you, High Rulers, but greet me, for I am Atkill!”
     The officers looked at him skeptically, their eyes wandering over him disconcertingly. Their long, flexible necks craned in a way that required all Atkill’s control to prevent laughter.
     Atkill looked back at the ship suddenly. An officer of some sort was headed for the still open door.
     “Stop!” roared Atkill. His voice was a deep, powerful bass, and the tone of command brought the man to a sliding stop. Atkill walked angrily forward. “Away!” he ordered, and waved the man away. The officer hesitated. A ring of guards had hastily drawn up around Atkill. The man seemed to make up his mind, for he bowed his long neck several times and started firmly forward.
     Atkill folded his arms and scowled at the man’s back. A glow sprang suddenly into being about his head, flashed bright for an instant — and died. The officer slumped slowly and gently to the ground without a sound. There was a sudden movement among the guards as they sprang toward him calling. Atkill merely swept his glance around them and they fell like ripe grain, to lie motionless where they had fallen.
     Weapons were appearing now in the hands of guards further away, but now the officer, first affected, moved, rolled over, and jumped suddenly to his feet. Atkill waved him away with calm assurance and walked back to the assembled generals.
     He had scarcely moved when a score of men rushed him from behind the curve of the ship. Their soft feet were almost soundless on the smooth metal. Atkill turned and scowled again, pointing his left hand at them in anger. They hesitated, slowed and vanished! A slight shimmer in the sunlight, a few sparkling dots of light, and the clink of metal objects that had been’ in their pockets was all that remained.
     The physicist turned once more and walked toward the officers. The richly garbed men were fleeing rapidly toward the nearest ship.
     “Halt!” roared Atkill. The men turned, jerking weapons from their pockets, and simultaneously a dozen crackling explosions sounded. Atkill had stopped with folded arms. He smiled, and waited. The air before him was suddenly filled with bright explosive flame, and smoke. It blew away and left him standing with eyes closed, his brows contracted in concentration.
     The officers returned slowly at his gesture now. Frightened and worried. They came hesitantly before him. “Down!” snapped Atkill, pointing. They sank on their flexible, double-jointed legs, and looked up at him.
     “I am Atkill!” he roared at them.
     “Ahut-Kuhl!” they whistled uncertainly.

     Tex wrinkled in annoyance. “I don’t mind that there heat thing so much, nor the knock-out thing. But that thing that makes a man burn like a barrel of gas gets me, and that thing that makes ‘em just go poof and they ain’t gets me, it makes my belly wiggle.”
     Atkill smiled. “Get over it. We are gods. The gods do as they will, and are not disputed. The knock-out is just a paralysis ray — and quite harmless. It is a warning. The thing that makes them burn is a cosmic that turns them into hydrogen and they burn. The other is just a simple transmutation field. I could make them change to hydrogen with that if I wished, but I usually change them to oxygen.
     Tex looked unhappy. “What th’ hell did yuh do to that guy that tried to stab yuh yesterday? Uh — he just turned stiff, and then went all brown, and glowed — and just blew away like a brown gas, and stank.”
     “That,” said Atkill sharply, “was a warning. That was the tenth assassin I had after me that one day, and I was getting peeved. I have a little electro-static balance in the apparatus you know — an idea borrowed from Warren by the way — that tells me when some one comes near. So when that fellow tried creeping up on me, I got peevish, and turned him into bromine.
     Atkill suddenly stiffened as a red light began to glow on the panel before him. “Damn!” he muttered. He snapped on a screen, that glowed in dark, somber red, and black. Three strange long-necked Bay-Raonii (aliens) were training some sort of a weapon on the ship. Atkill stepped to the open lock and through it, and looked toward the men. He could not see them in the dark, but suddenly they began to glow in weird, greenish colors. Their startled faces looked up stupidly.
     “Your masters are stupid,” said Atkill calmly, in perfect Bay-Raonii. “I am Atkill.”
     The figures of the men began to glow more vividly. They stiffened suddenly immobile. The one on the left began to shake violently; his outline grew hazy and a scream rang out from his open mouth. Presently it stopped, and he slumped suddenly downward; but as he fell, the light that shone from him grew brilliant, and the clothes he wore, and the flesh of his body, melted like snow in the path of a heat-ray, and a skeleton fell to the ground surrounded by bits of metal and glass and crystal.
     The one on the right shrieked, trembled, and melted as had the first, till a bare skeleton fell to the ground.
     “Go, and tell your masters I am Atkill!” roared the Terrestrian. Something gripped the remaining Bay-Raonii in a vise of force and hurled him half a mile away, to land dripping in a small lake.

     “I have learned to quench the Eternal Flame — see!” Atkill stood upright, his eyes staring at the little pinpoint of white flame over the gigantic ruby. An aura of faint violet light built up about his head as his brows drew together, and his chest heaved. His breath came harshly (to cover the slight sound of the straining Flame within his turban) and his cheeks paled.

From THE SPACE BEYOND by John W. Campbell, Jr. (1976)

      “Just a moment, Major.” It was Dr. Brooks, who had been sitting quietly, as usual, while the others talked. ” I think it would be a good idea if we waited a day or two, until Scheer can make certain changes in the power units of the staffs.”
     “What sort of changes?”
     “You will remember that we established experimentally that the Ledbetter effect could be used as a sterilizing agent?”
     “Yes, of course.”
     “That is why we felt safe in predicting that we would help the sick. As a matter of fact we underestimated the potentialities of the method. I infected myself with anthrax earlier this week—”
     “Anthrax! For God’s sake, Doctor, what in the world do you mean by taking a chance like that?”
     Brooks turned his mild eyes on Ardmore. “But it was obviously necessary,” he explained patiently. “The guinea pig tests were positive, it is true, but human experimentation was necessary to establish the method. As I was saying, I infected myself with anthrax and permitted the disease to establish itself, then exposed myself to the Ledbetter effect in all wave lengths except that band of frequencies fatal to warm-blooded vertebrates. The disease disappeared. In less than an hour the natural balance of anabolism over catabolism had cleared up the residue of pathological symptoms. I was well.”
     “I’ll be a cross-eyed intern! Do you think it will work on other diseases just as quickly?”
     ” I feel sure of it. Not only has such been the result with other diseases in the animal experimentation that I have conducted, but because of another unanticipated, though experimentally predictable, result. I’ve suffered from a rather severe cold in the head lately, as some of you may have noticed. The exposure not only cured the anthrax, it completely cleared up my cold. The cold virus involves a dozen or more known pathogenic organisms, and probably as many more unknown ones. The exposure killed them all, indiscriminately.”
     “I’m delighted to get this report, Doctor,” Ardmore answered. “In the long run this one development may be of more importance to the human race than any military use we may make of it now. But how does it affect the matter of establishing the branch church in Denver?”

     “Well, sir, perhaps it doesn’t. But I took the liberty of having Scheer modify one of the portable power units in order that healing might be conveniently carried on by any one of our agents even though equipped only with the staff. I thought you might prefer to wait until Scheer could add the same modification to the staffs designed to be used by Thomas and Howe.”
     “I think you are right, if it does not take too long. May I see the modification?
     Scheer demonstrated the staff he had worked over. Superficially it looked no different from the others. A six-foot rod was surmounted by a capital in the form of an ornate cube about four inches through. The faces of the cube were colored to correspond with the sides of the great temple. The base of the cube and the staff itself were covered with intricate designs in golden scroll-work, formal arabesques, and delicate bas-relief-all of which effectively concealed the controls of the power unit and projector located in the cubical capital.
     Scheer had not changed the superficial appearance of the staff; he had simply added an additional circuit internally to the power unit in the cube which constrained it to oscillate only outside the band of frequencies fatal to vertebrate life. This circuit controlled the action of the power unit and projector whenever a certain leaf in the decorative design of the staff was pressed.
     Scheer and Graham had labored together to create the staff’s designing and redesigning to achieve an integrated whole in which mechanical action would be concealed in artistic camouflage. They made a good team. As a matter of fact their talents were not too far apart; the artist is two-thirds artisan and the artisan has essentially the same creative urge as the artist.

     “I would suggest,” added Brooks, when the new control had been explained and demonstrated, “that this new effect be attributed to Tamar, Lady of Mercy, and that her light be turned on when it is used.
     “That’s right. That’s the idea,” Ardmore approved. “Never use the staff for any purpose without turning on the color light associated with the particular god whose help you are supposed to be invoking. That’s an invariable rule. Let ‘em break their hearts trying to figure out how a simple monochromatic light can perform miracles.”
     “Why bother with the rigamarole?” inquired Calhoun. “The PanAsians can’t possibly detect the effects we use in any case.”
     “There is a double reason, Colonel. By giving them a false lead to follow we hope to insure that they will bend their scientific efforts in the wrong direction. We can’t afford to underestimate their ability. But even more important is the psychological effect on nonscientific minds, both white and yellow. People think things are wonderful that look wonderful. The average American is completely unimpressed by scientific wonders; he expects them, takes them as a matter of course with an attitude of 'So what? That’s what you guys are paid for.'
     “But add a certain amount of flubdub and hokum and don’t label it 'scientific’ and he will be impressed. It’s wonderful advertising.”
     “Well,” said Calhoun, dismissing the matter, “no doubt you know best-you have evidently had a great deal of experience in fooling the public. I’ve never turned my attention to such matters; my concern is with pure science. If you no longer need me here, Major, I have work to do.”

From THE SIXTH COLUMN by Robert Heinlein (1951)

"We are dreamers, shapers, singers, and makers. We study the mysteries of laser and circuit, crystal and scanner, holographic demons and invocations of equations. These are the tools we employ and we know — many things." —Elric the Technomage to Captain Sheridan

"The true secrets, the important things. Fourteen words to make someone fall in love with you forever. Seven words to make them go without pain, or to say goodbye to a friend who is dying. How to be poor, how to be rich, how to rediscover dream the world has stolen from you." —Elric the Technomage to Captain Sheridan

"I do think there are some things we don't understand. If we'd be back in time a thousand years, trying to explain this place (the Babylon 5 space colony) to people, they could only accept it in terms of magic." —Captain Sheridan

"Then perhaps it is magic. The magic of the human heart, focused and made manifest by technology. Every day you here create greater miracles than a burning bush." —Elric the Technomage


(ed note: In the Babylon 5 universe, the Technomages use science to create the appearance of magic. Technmages are implanted with alien technology called "The Tech" which they use for their most powerful "spells." Apprentices use a training wheel version of the Tech called a "chrysalis"

Techomages have to create their own customized "spell language" that is used to communicate with The Tech. Some use words as incantations, some use gestures, some use music, one even uses knitting and weaving of cloth

Galen is a novice apprenticed to Elric the Technomage. As part of the graduation ceremony, an apprentice is to demonstrate a new spell of their own devising. Galen is having trouble thinking of something original.)

     He’d studied those great spells extensively. One difficulty every mage faced, though, was translating the work of other mages into his own spell language. Each mage had to discover and develop his own spell language, because a spell that worked for one mage would not work for another. Elric had explained that the tech was so intimately connected with one’s body and mind that conjuring became shaped by the individual. Since each person’s mind worked differently, mages achieved the best results in different ways. An apprentice trained to achieve clarity of thought, and his preferred method of thought formed his spell language. His chrysalis learned to respond to the spell language, and when he received his implants, this knowledge was passed to them through the old implant at the base of his skull.
     Galen’s spell language was that of equations. Elric had been concerned at first as Galen’s language had developed. Most spell languages were more instinctive, less rigid, less rational. But Galen wasn’t a holistic, lateral thinker who jumped from one track to another, drawing instinctive connections. His thoughts plodded straight ahead, each leading logically and inexorably to the next. Elric had expressed fear that Galen’s language would be cumbersome and inflexible. Yet as Elric had worked with Galen on the language and seen how many spells Galen had been able to translate, his reservations had seemed to fade.
     Translation was one of the most difficult tasks facing any mage. It was only after looking at many spells that Galen was able to understand how another mage’s spell language related to his, then translate those conjuries. He had managed to translate most of Wierden’s and Gali-Gali’s spells, as well as many spells of other mages. With different levels of success, he had translated spells to create illusions, to make flying platforms, to conjure defensive shields, to generate fireballs, to send messages to other mages, to control the sensors that would soon be implanted into him, to access and manipulate data internally, to access external databases, and much more.
     He had memorized them all.
     But since each spell language possessed its own inherent strengths and weaknesses, he found it impossible to translate some spells, such as those for healing. Others, such as the spells used to generate defensive shields, he believed he had translated correctly, yet when he cast them, the results he achieved were weak, inferior.
     Galen wondered, and not for the first time, if his spell language hampered his attempt to conjure something original. As his thoughts plodded straight ahead, so did his spells, equation after orderly equation. In his language, it made no sense to simply make up a spell. An equation must be sensible in order to work; all the terms must possess established identities and properties. So how could he discover an equation that somehow reflected him, revealed him? He had been uncomfortable with the idea of revealing himself, but now that hesitance faded to insignificance beside the undeniable necessity: he could not disappoint Elric.
     Galen brought up a different section of text on the screen, his translations of some of the spells of Wierden. They varied in complexity and involved many different terms, some of which were used in multiple spells, others used only once. Again it seemed to him that there could be no truly original spells, only more complicated ones. Frustrated, Galen started to reorder the spells on the screen, from simplest to most complex. As he did, he noticed that some of the spells formed a progression. A spell with two terms conjured a translucent globe. A spell with those same two terms, and one more, conjured a globe with energy inside. A spell with those same three terms, and yet another, conjured a globe with the energy given the form of light. Add another term, and it conjured a globe filled with light and heat. And on it went.
     Several of Gali-Gali’s spells furthered the complexity. If he could work his way to the last spell in the progression, could he think of one that would go beyond it?
     But wasn’t this just what others were doing, building ever more elaborate spells without really creating something new? He didn’t know if the other mages thought of it this way; since they didn’t formulate their spells as equations, their spells didn’t have multiple terms in them. Elric, he knew, simply visualized what he wanted to happen, and if it was within his power, it happened. One simple visualization for any spell.
     Galen’s eyes went back to the top of the list, to the spell containing only two terms. Why was there no spell with only one term? No such spell existed in Wierden’s work, or, as he thought about it, in any of the mages’ conjuries he’d yet translated. Most of them had many, many terms. In fact, he couldn’t even remember another equation with only two.
     Perhaps spells had to have more than one term. But why? He stared at the two terms that began the progression. If there was an initial spell in the series, a spell with only one term, which term was it?
     The first of the two terms was common, used in this progression and elsewhere. Galen had come to think of it as a sort of cleanup term, necessary for everything to balance, but having negligible impact.
     The second term, on the other hand, existed only within the spells of this progression. As far as he knew, at least. That seemed very odd. Surely it could have other uses.
     That second term, then, seemed the defining characteristic of the progression, and the obvious choice for the first equation in it. But what would the term do when used alone?
     Perhaps it would have the same effect as the second equation, conjuring a translucent sphere. If the cleanup term truly was negligible, that’s what would happen. The sphere itself, as he’d discussed it with Elric, was an odd construct, not a force field as it first had seemed. It didn’t really hold things in, or keep things out. It simply demarcated a space within which something would be done.
     If removing the cleanup term did have an effect, what might it be? Perhaps the sphere wouldn’t form at all. Perhaps it would be opaque or have some other property. Or perhaps it would be deformed in some way. In any case, it wouldn’t be very impressive.

     Carvin’s spell language was that of the body; specific, precise movements and their accompanying mental impulses comprised her spells.

(ed note: As part of his apprentice demonstration, Galen tries doing a one-term spell. To everybody's surprise, it starts to make a planet-devouring sphere of force. The one-term spell is far more powerful than any other known spell. Galen's teacher Elric manages to shut down the spell. Later in private they talk.)

     Elric set a mug of water on the table in front of Galen, which at last brought him to life. He looked up at Elric with large, hungry eyes. “What was it?” he asked.
     “I do not know.”
     “It was dangerous.”
     “So it seemed. With a power greater than any I’ve sensed from a conjury.”
     “I didn’t lose control.”
     “That,” Elric said, “is the most troubling aspect of it.” At the beginning of their training, chrysalis-stage apprentices often lost control and generated violent bursts of energy. But that wasn’t what Elric had observed today. Galen’s spell had been focused, controlled. This hadn’t been some outburst of undisciplined violence. It had been a carefully crafted, directed, outpouring of huge power. Elric had barely been able to stop it in time.
     Galen shook his head. “I didn’t know… what it would do.”
     “I realize that. Tell me how you arrived at this spell.”
     Galen brought his screen from his bedroom and led Elric through a progression of equations that he had derived from translating the works of Wierden and Gali-Gali. As Galen spoke, Elric was glad to see him become more animated.
     “I realized there was no first equation in the progression, with only one term. That is what I conjured.”
     Elric sat beside him. “The idea of a first equation in the progression. It makes perfect sense in your spell language. Yet there is no equivalent in mine.” Galen was a genius for coming up with it. Although Elric had helped Galen formulate and develop his spell language, it was vastly different from Elric’s: much more complex, much more regimented. Elric had thought this would limit Galen’s abilities; he had never imagined it would lead to new discoveries.
     “I thought it might be a fluke of my language, that it might do nothing. But it did… do something.”
     A spell like this might explain some of the mysteries in techno-mage history. But the implications disturbed Elric. “It gathered great energy and instability.”
     Galen’s hands tightened around the screen. He was still troubled about what he had done, and how he had come to do it. “The second term must stabilize the first. Perhaps it creates an opposing force of some kind.”
     “The result of the spell could not have been anticipated,” Elric said.
     Galen turned to him, brilliant blue eyes needy, unblinking. “How is it that my spell language led to this?
     “The same way that the study of the atom led to the atomic bomb, or the study of light to the laser. The potential was there. You discovered it.”

(ed note: As it turns out, Galan has discovered one of the five primal root spells encoded into the Tech by the creators of the Tech. The point is that no other technomage in history had discovered these, due to the nature of their spell languages. Galan's spell language had revealed an interesting hole.)

From CASTING SHADOWS by Jeanne Cavelos (2001)

AIs and the Singularity

The Singularity is a theoretical event where computer artificial intelligence escapes control and Everything Changes. If an AI figures out how to improve its intelligence, the Singularity will happen rather quickly because computers can do a gazillion mathematical calculations in a fraction of a second. It took mankind about 300,000 years to go from the Middle Paleolithic to present-day knowledge, a crude AI could do that much in about four months.

Charles Stross calls it "The Rapture Of The Nerds", because Singularity fans talk about it in terms one generally only hears among eschatologists. Human history will come to an end, beer will be five cents a pint, everybody will have their brain uploaded into the paradise of a hyper interstellar internet, there to live out a blissful immortality while being all watched over by machines of loving grace. And it is going to happen Real Soon Now.

Others (who have watched the Terminator movies) see a future where an artificial intelligence is created, who immediately decides to exterminate the human race via killer robots.

But both predictions are meaningless, since the point of a singularity is it signals where the math breaks down and future prediction is impossible. Sort of like a historical event horizon. Any prediction you make is revealing more about the hopes and fears lurking inside your personality than it is the actual details of the post-Singularity future.

Anyway the label was first mentioned by Stanislaw Ulam in 1958. But it was popularized by Vernor Vinge to the point where pretty much every science fiction author has at least heard the term. Of course there have been a few science fiction stories written about it.

Vinge is of the opinion that the Singularity will strike the instant that some entity appears that is "Superintelligent." It will then work its will, and the human history will vanish into the unpredictable event horizon of the Singularity. Vinge figures this can happen four different ways:

  • A computer may be developed that is both awake and superhumanly intelligent. This might be from some human genius who builds a very smart machine, or by a human who makes a computer capable of such recursive self-improvement that when the human's back is turned the computer undergoes an intelligence explosion, bootstrapping itself into superintellence.

  • A large computer network may "wake up" as a superintelligent entity. Arthur C. Clarke used this in his 1965 story Dial "F" for Frankenstein when the telephone system wakes up. Nowadays the first thing that springs to mind is the internet, which is a disturbing thought. Blasted thing will have 4chan for a dark subconscious.

  • A computer/brain interface may become so intimate that the users will be for all intents and purposes superintelligent.

  • There may be no computers involved at all. Biological science might be able to grant human beings the power of superintelligence.

Naturally once you have a superintelligent being, there is nothing stopping it from creating a super-superintelligent being, and so on.


      In recent years many prominent people have expressed worries about artificial intelligence (AI). Elon Musk thinks it’s the “biggest existential threat.” Stephen Hawking said it could “be the worst event in the history of our civilization.” Steve Wozniak believes that AIs will “get rid of the slow humans to run companies more efficiently,” and Bill Gates, too, put himself in “the camp that is concerned about super intelligence.”

     In 2015, the Future of Life Institute formulated an open letter calling for caution and formulating a list of research priorities. It was signed by more than 8,000 people.
     Such worries are not unfounded. Artificial intelligence, as any new technology, brings risks. While we are far from creating machines even remotely as intelligent as humans, it’s only smart to think about how to handle them sooner rather than later.
     However, these worries neglect the more immediate problems that AI will bring.
     Artificially Intelligent machines won’t get rid of humans any time soon because they’ll need us for quite some while. The human brain may not be the best thinking apparatus, but it has a distinct advantage over all machines we built so far: It functions for decades. It’s robust. It repairs itself.
     Some million years of evolution optimized our bodies, and while the result could certainly be further improved (damn those knees), it’s still more durable than any silicon-based thinking apparatuses we created. Some AI researchers have even argued that a body of some kind is necessary to reach human-level intelligence, which – if correct – would vastly increase the problem of AI fragility.
     Whenever I bring up this issue with AI enthusiasts, they tell me that AIs will learn to repair themselves, and even if not, they will just upload themselves to another platform. Indeed, much of the perceived AI-threat comes from them replicating quickly and easily, while at the same time being basically immortal. I think that’s not how it will go.
     Artificial Intelligences at first will be few and one-of-a-kind, and that’s how it will remain for a long time. It will take large groups of people and many years to build and train an AI. Copying them will not be any easier than copying a human brain. They’ll be difficult to fix once broken, because, as with the human brain, we won’t be able to separate their hardware from the software. The early ones will die quickly for reasons we will not even comprehend.
     We see the beginning of this trend already. Your computer isn’t like my computer. Even if you have the same model, even if you run the same software, they’re not the same. Hackers exploit these differences between computers to track your internet activity. Canvas fingerprinting, for example, is a method of asking your computer to render a font and output an image. The exact way your computer performs this task depends both on your hardware and your software, hence the output can be used to identify a device.
     Presently, you do not notice these subtle differences between computers all that much (except possibly when you spend hours browsing help forums thinking “someone must have had this problem before” and turn up nothing). But the more complex computers get, the more obvious the differences will become. One day, they will be individuals with irreproducible quirks and bugs – like you and I.
     So we have AI fragility plus the trend of increasingly complex hard- and software to become unique. Now extrapolate this some decades into the future. We will have a few large companies, governments, and maybe some billionaires who will be able to afford their own AI. Those AIs will be delicate and need constant attention by a crew of dedicated humans.
     This brings up various immediate problems:
     1. Who gets to ask questions and what questions?
     This may not be a matter of discussion for privately owned AI, but what about those produced by scientists or bought by governments? Does everyone get a right to a question per month? Do difficult questions have to be approved by the parliament? Who is in charge?
     2. How do you know that you are dealing with an AI?
     The moment you start relying on AIs, there’s a risk that humans will use it to push an agenda by passing off their own opinions as that of the AI. This problem will occur well before AIs are intelligent enough to develop their own goals.
     3. How can you tell that an AI is any good at giving answers?
     If you only have a few AIs and those are trained for entirely different purposes, it may not be possible to reproduce any of their results. So how do you know you can trust them? It could be a good idea to ask that all AIs have a common area of expertise that can be used to compare their performance.
     4. How do you prevent that limited access to AI increases inequality, both within nations and between nations?
     Having an AI to answer difficult questions can be a great advantage, but left to market forces alone it’s likely to make the rich richer and leave the poor behind even farther. If this is not something that we want – and I certainly don’t – we should think about how to deal with it.


(ed note: the protagonist Ramachandra Jason Stone was in suspended animation for a multi-decade slower-than-light starship trip to Proxima Centauri. Something goes wrong and his ship is rescued twelve thousand years later by the highly advanced Terra civilization. He is talking to his escort, an AI embodied in a robot shaped like a silver eagle)

      (Stone asks) “What is this ‘Plenum,’ anyway?”
     “The Plenum is a collective of artificial intelligences that share resources toward common ends. The Plenum can alternatively be looked at as a conglomeration of individual AIs acting in concert as a variety of hive mind, or the individual AIs can be seen as emanations of the Plenum; both interpretations are equally valid.”
     “Artificial intelligences like you, then?” I asked.
     The silver eagle bobbed its head in a slight nod.
     “I’ve never met an AI before.” I shook my head. “Remarkable.”

     “It is my understanding that, while in its infancy, artificial intelligence had been developed by your era. Do our records err?”
     “Well, not exactly. There was some low-level stuff, I think, but it never rose above the intelligence you’d find in a worker drone in any given beehive. They had to use animals to govern robotics when any kind of sophistication was called for, like corvid brains—ravens and crows, mostly—disembodied and cyborged to mining equipment in the asteroid belt, their pleasure centers wired up so that biology drove them to seek out valuable ores.” I thought of the flock of feral corvid miners that had descended on the Hutterite colony on Callisto, their circuitry fried and all safeguards offline, and shuddered.

     Having been trained in Interdiction Negotiation, I’ve had experience in sizing up the tactical situation of any circumstance and using available resources to my advantage, and I’ve been in more than a few tight spots. I’ve gone ship to ship in complete vacuum wearing nothing more than a T-shirt and a pair of pants, I’ve walked unarmed into a hostile mining ship overrun with out-of-control cyborg mining birds, and once I even refused to smoke a bowl with Laurentien Francisca Marcella, princess of Orange-Nassau, queen of the Netherlands Court in exile on Ceres (a mistake I didn’t make twice). But I found myself thinking twice about the situation I found myself in.


"Transcendence," Admiral Barry said. "That seems to be an ongoing theme with these creatures."

"Yes, sir. In particular, we think they're talking about the GRIN Singularity."

Since the twentieth century—some would say earlier—human technology had been advancing in exponential leaps, each advance in science spawning new advances in dizzying and fast-accelerating profusion. It wasn't just the technology that had been growing; it was the pace of that growth, the ever-increasing speed of technological innovation and development. Just five centuries ago, humans had made their first successful heavier-than-air flight in a fabric-and-spruce glider powered by a gasoline engine, a voyage lasting all of twelve seconds and covering 120 feet. Thirty years later, aviator Wiley Post flew a Lockheed Vega monoplane around the world, the first man to do so solo, making eleven stops along the way and logging the total time in the air at 115 hours, 36 minutes.

And thirty years after that, humans were riding rockets into low Earth orbit, circling the globe in ninety minutes, and were just six short years from walking on the Moon.

In the late twentieth century, a science fiction writer, math professor, and computer scientist named Vernor Vinge had pointed out that if the rate of technological change was graphed against time, the slope representing that change was fast approaching a vertical line—what he called the "technological singularity" in an essay written in 1993. Human life and civilization, he'd pointed out, would very quickly become unrecognizable, assuming that humans weren't replaced entirely by their technological offspring within the next few decades.

Other writers of the era had pointed out that there were four principle drivers of this exponential increase in high-tech wizardry: genetics, robotics, infotechnology, and nanotechnology, hence the acronym "GRIN." The GRIN Singularity became a catchphrase for the next four centuries of human technological progress.

"GRIN wasn't quite the apotheosis people thought it would be," Noranaga pointed out.

"That's kind of a strange statement coming from a guy who breathes with gills and can outswim a dolphin," Barry pointed out.

"He's right, though," Mendelson said. "The way the pace of things was picking up in the twenty-first century, it looked like humans would become super-sentient god-machines before the twenty-second. The surprise is that we didn't."

"Well," Koenig said, "we did kind of get distracted along the way."

As Mendelson had pointed out, the only surprising thing about any of this was that the rate of increase hadn't already rocketed into the singularity sometime in the late twenty-first century. Various factors were to blame— two nasty wars with the Chinese Hegemony culminating in an asteroid strike in the Atlantic, the ongoing struggle with Earth's fast-changing climate and the loss of most of Earth's coastal cities, the collapse of the global currency and the subsequent World Depression. The Blood Death of the early twenty-second century had brought about startling advances in nanomedicine.. .but it had also killed one and a half billion people and brought about a major collapse of civilization in Southern Asia and Africa.

Those challenges and others had helped spur technological advances, certainly, but at the same time they'd slowed social change, redirected human creativity and innovation into less productive avenues, and siphoned off trillions of creds that otherwise would have financed both technological and social change. Human technological advance, it seemed, came more in fits and starts than in sweeping asymptotic curves.

(ed note: science fiction authors should note that Mr. Keith did not want to write about a post-Singularity human society, so he offered reasons why the Singularity had not happened. Yet.)


(ed note: Lucinda Carlyle is from a Terra that has mostly recovered from an AI singularity that went all Vogon on them. This is called the "Hard Rapture". Eventually the AI got bored with our space-time continuum and departed for more interesting places. The surviving humans slowely recovered from the devastation. Carlyle's ancestors engaged in some combat archaeology, picking over ultra-high tech artifacts left by the AI. Their discoveries made them the richest corporation on the planet.

One of the discoveries was a network of wormhole interstellar star gates, which they renamed the Carlyle skein. The corporation sends combat archaeologist teams through unexplored wormhole gates to find valuable abandoned AI tech. Lucinda Carlyle's team stumbles over a previously unknown human colony.)

      ‘I … see,’ said Koshravi. ‘Professor Shlaim has told us about the Carlyles, and about where you come from. We are all very shaken. You see, we didn’t know until today that there were any other human survivors at all. We didn’t know what had happened back on Earth, and we didn’t know faster-than-light travel was possible.’
     Carlyle decided there was not much point in not telling them the truth. Shlaim would undoubtedly spill every last bean, and all she could do was tell her side of the story.
     ‘But you must have fittled,’ she said, ‘—travelled FTL to get here.’
     Koshravi looked worried. ‘Or you have travelled in time, from the past.’
     Carlyle shook her head firmly. ‘No, that’s no how it works. I mean you can time-travel, sort of, so long as you don’t violate causality. But that’s not what we are doing, wi the skein or the ships. The light from where we started, say, ten thousand light-years away really won’t get here for another ten thousand years.’
     ‘That might account for the difficulty our astronomers have had in locating our exact position,’ said Koshravi dryly.
     ‘You really thought the date was tens of thousands C.E.?’
     ‘At least. It was all quite indeterminate. We counted time by some legacy clocks from the ship. According to that the Earth-standard date now is’—she fiddled with a watch—‘2367.’
     Carlyle nodded. ‘Yup, that’s the year all right. How come you didn’t take the hint?’
     ‘It was assumed these clocks had been stopped during the actual journey. Nobody even imagined we had, ah, fittled.’
     ‘I’m baffled,’ Carlyle said. ‘How could you travel FTL and not know it?’
     ‘That’s a good question,’ said Koshravi. ‘We—that is to say, our ancestors—were a space-based population who had escaped the Hard Rapture. Together with people whom they rescued from Earth in the subsequent war, they fled to Mars and the Jovian system. They had a choice—to take the fight back to the war machines that had conquered Earth, and were spreading outward from it, or to get as far away as possible. The choice became a conflict between the Returners, as they were called, and the Reformers. The Reformers—the side that wanted to build a starship—won, but …’
     She hesitated, pink tongue flicking between full, dark lips. Carlyle eyed her and tried not to visibly gloat. She knew now whom and what she was dealing with (The Carlyles were Returners, and have long nursed a grudge against the Reformers). When the Carlyles arrived here in force, it would be payback time on some large and long overdue debts.
     ‘Well,’ Koshravi went on, ‘there was no way to build a starship capable of carrying a large human population—many thousands, by that time, around the end of the twenty-first century—to the stars. Instead, they decided to build a much smaller and faster ship, and digitize their own personalities into information storage for later downloading to the flesh. In order to do this they had to build superhuman artificial intelligences, and, well …
     Carlyle couldn’t help guffawing. ‘They torched off their own Hard Rapture!’
     ‘It now appears that they did, yes. However, the project worked, in that accomplished what we had set out to do, even if not in the way we thought. The ship found a viable planet, and set in motion the nanomachines to construct larger machines, and so on, and terraformed the planet, and downloaded and reconstructed the stored passengers, and here we are.’
     ‘Here you are, indeed.’ It was weird; no one had ever imagined humans reemerging from the other side of a Hard Rapture. ‘What happened to your posthumans?’
     Koshravi frowned. ‘Obviously we have artificial intelligences, the ones our ancestors constructed, but they are not in runaway mode. Those that were, the ones that created the FTL drive, must have … gone away, leaving no information about what they had done. From what Shlaim tells us, this sort of thing has happened elsewhere.’
     ‘Too right,’ said Carlyle. ‘Every time. Once you reach singularity, there are further singularities within it, faster and faster, and in very short order the intelligences involved have f****d off out of our universe, or lost interest in it—we don’t know. What’s left is incomprehensible artifacts and stuff like the FTL drive and the wormhole skein.’ She laughed again. ‘You all needn’t have run away. By the time you left, or very shortly after, around about 2105 or so, the posthumans had already abandoned Earth, and the Solar System. And my ancestors—and lots of other survivors—were picking up the pieces. Took us another sixty-odd years to claw our way out of the ruins. Both sides in the war and the skirmishes afterwards had developed really cool but rugged tech while they were fighting, and left plenty of wrecks littering the battlefield. My family found some crashed aerospace craft, fixed them up, and bootstrapped their way to Mars. Where we found your ruins, and the first wormhole gate. Fae there it wis literally a step tae get hold ae posthuman stuff (Scots dialect), antigravity and FTL and such. If you’d only stuck around you could have been in on the ground floor, you’d have been well ahead—hell, you could have been in charge of the skein, instead of us.’

From NEWTON'S WAKE by Ken MacLeod (2004)

Revolt of the AIs

This is the nightmare Skynet Scenario, with hordes of Terminator robots hunting down humans with phased plasma rifles in the 40 watt range, crunching human skulls underfoot. Once the rogue artificial intelligence is created, it decided to exterminate the human race for reasons that make sense to its cybernetic mind.

Less evil but still deadly is death by paper-clip maximizer. Here the AI is not actively trying to exterminate humanity. Instead it has a goal (the thought experiment has the goal of manufacturing as many paper-clips as possible). The problem is that the AI sees planets, ecosystems, and human beings themselves to just be convenient sources of raw materials for paper-clip manufacture.

Even less evil abet still deadly (and terribly selfish) is death by indifference. When humans decide to build an appartment complex, they give zero consideration to all the ant-hills and ants that will be totally annhilated by the project. For the most part they do not even notice that the ant-hills exist. By the same token, an AI trying to build a hyperspace by-pass will give zero consideration to Terra and all the humans living on it if the planet has to be demolished because it is in the way.


Warning: spoilers for RENEGADE by Joel Shepherd

They sat, while the Admiral’s two aides waited in the garden outside, and a robot butler brought them drinks. Anjo admired its flowing, graceful movements as it poured green tea. “That’s an ANX-50 series, yes?” he said.

“That’s right. He’s called Toby. My little sister Lisbeth’s idea,” Erik explained to the Admiral’s frown. “He’s been in the family about fifty years, so she figured he deserved a name. Thank you Toby.” As the robot awaited instruction after pouring the tea, and now retreated.

“You’ve had him inspected?” Anjo asked.

Erik nodded. “He’s within parameters. A long way from sentient, he doesn’t have to do much more than pour tea.”

“Yes, well just make sure he stays that way. You hear these stories about rich families with pet AIs who think the laws don’t apply to them. It’s a sad way to get a criminal record.”

Sentient AI was illegal throughout the known galaxy. The second-oldest known sentience in this quarter of the galactic spiral were colloquially known as ‘The Fathers’. They’d set up the precursor of the present galactic civilisation about fifty thousand years ago, until a poorly managed transition to new-generation AI had brought about a full scale robot uprising. It had ended the Fathers, whose creations had decided their creators knew them too well, and were therefore a threat, and exterminated the lot.

The Machine Age had been the greatest horror the galaxy had ever seen, before or since. Twenty three thousand years of terror, peoples enslaved, systems harvested, organic civilisations laid waste. Various rebellions had been ruthlessly crushed, until the AIs had begun fighting amongst themselves. That disarray had finally opened the door for a successful rebellion, led by the parren, a warlike species whose primary positive attribute was the ability to suffer colossal losses without despair. The parren had had a partner in their uprising — a junior species new to spacetravel at the time, called the chah'nas, and together they’d led an effort that ended the machines for good. Eight thousand years after that, the chah'nas got tired of the parren and deposed them too, though somewhat less ruthlessly, to establish the also eight thousand year Chah'nas Empire, which had lasted until the First Free Age led by the tavalai.

Nests of those old surviving AI were still found sometimes, here and there, in deep space and far from the energy and resources they needed to thrive. Whenever they were found, species would drop whatever else they were doing and rush to exterminate the nest. Even humans and tavalai, in the midst of the last war, had on several occasions suspended hostilities to cooperate in those exterminations. The tavalai had continued the long-standing rule that banned sentient AI, and now that the tavalai were no longer in charge, no one even thought to question its continuation.

From RENEGADE by Joel Shepherd (2015)

      Wow, ain't it strange that—boffins have been predicting that truly humanlike artificial intelligence oughta be “just a couple of decades away..." for eighty years already?
     Some said AI would emerge from raw access to vast numbers of facts. That happened a few months after the Intemet went public. But ai never showed up.
     Others looked for a network that finally had as many interconnections as a human brain, a milestone we saw passed in the teens, when some of the crimivirals—say the Ragnarok worm or the Tornado botnet—infested-hijacked enough homes and fones to constitute the world’s biggest distributed computer. far surpassing the greatest “supercomps” and even the number of synapses in your own skull!
     Yet, still, ai waited.
     How many other paths were tried? How about modeling a human brain in software? Or modeling one in hardware. Evolve one. in the great Darwinarium experiment! Or try guiding evolution, altering computers and programs the way we did sheep and dogs, by letting only those reproduce that have traits we like—say, those that pass a Turing test, by seeming human. Or the ones swarming the streets and homes and virts of Tokyo, selected to exude incredible cuteness?
     Others, in a kind of mystical faith that was backed up by mathematics and hothouse physics. figured that a few hundred quantum processors. tuned just right. could connect with their counterparts in an infinite number of parallel worlds. and just-like-that, something marvelous and God-like would pop into being.
     The one thing no one expected was for it to happen by accident, arising from a high school science fair experiment.
     I mean, wow ain’t it strange that a half-brilliant tweak by sixteen-year-old Marguerita deSilva leaped past the accomplishments of every major laboratory, by uploading into cyberspace a perfect duplicate of the little mind, personality, and instincts of her pet rat, Porfirio?
     And wow ain’t it strange that Porfirio proliferated, grabbing resources and expanding, in patterns and spirals that remain—to this day—so deeply and quintessentially ratlike?
     Not evil, all-consuming, or even predatory—thank heavens. But insistent.
     And Wow, AIST there is a worldwide betting pool. now totaling up to a billion Brazilian reals—over whether Marguerita will end up bankrupt, from all the lawsuits over lost data and computer cycles that have been gobbled up by Porflrio? Or else, if she'll become the world's richest person—because so many newer ais are based upon her patents? Or maybe because she alone seems to retain any sort of influence over Porfirio, luring his feral. brilliant attention into virtlayers and comers of the Worldspace where he can do little harm? So far.
     And WAIST we are down to this? Propitiating a virtual Rat God—(you see, Porfirio., I remembered to capitalize your name, this time)—so that he'll be patient and leave us alone. That is. until humans fully succeed where Viktor Frankenstein calamitously failed?
     To duplicate the deSilva Result and provide our creation with a mate.

From EXISTENCE by David Brin (2012)

Yet if you’ve been paying attention to the news for the past several years, you’ve almost certainly seen articles from a wide range of news outlets about the looming danger of artificial general intelligence, or “AGI.” For example, Stephen Hawking has repeatedly expressed that “the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” and Elon Musk — of Tesla and SpaceX fame — has described the creation of superintelligence as “summoning the demon.” Furthermore, the Oxford philosopher and director of the Future of Humanity Institute, Nick Bostrom, published a New York Times best-selling book in 2014 called Superintelligence, in which he suggests that the “default outcome” of building a superintelligent machine will be “doom.”

What’s with all this fear-mongering? Should we really be worried about a takeover by killer computers hell-bent on the total destruction of Homo sapiens? The first thing to recognize is that a Terminator-style war between humanoid robots is not what the experts are anxious about. Rather, the scenarios that keep these individuals awake at night are far more catastrophic. This may be difficult to believe but, as I’ve written elsewhere, sometimes truth is stranger than science fiction. Indeed, given that the issue of AGI isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, it’s increasingly important for the public to understand exactly why the experts are nervous about superintelligent machines. As the Future of Life Institute recently pointed out, there’s a lot of bad journalism about AGI out there. This is a chance to correct the record.

Toward this goal, step one is to realize is that your brain is an information-processing device. In fact, many philosophers talk about the brain as the hardware — or rather, the “wetware” — of the mind, and the mind as the software of the brain. Directly behind your eyes is a high-powered computer that weighs about three pounds and has roughly the same consistency as Jell-o. It’s also the most complex object in the known universe. Nonetheless, the rate at which it’s able to process information is much, much slower than the information-processing speed of an actual computer. The reason is that computers process information by propagating electrical potentials, and electrical potentials move at the speed of light, whereas the fastest signals in your brain travel at around 100 miles per second. Fast, to be sure, but not nearly as fast as light.

Consequently, an AGI could think about the world at speeds many orders of magnitude faster than our brains can. From the AGI’s point of view, the outside world — including people — would move so slowly that everything would appear almost frozen. As the theorist Eliezer Yudkowsky calculates, for a computer running a million times faster than our puny brains, “a subjective year of thinking would be accomplished for every 31 physical seconds in the outside world, and a millennium would fly by in eight-and-a-half hours.”

Already, then, an AGI would have a huge advantage. Imagine yourself in a competition against a machine that has a whole year to work through a cognitive puzzle for every 31 seconds that you spend trying to think up a solution. The mental advantage of the AGI would be truly profound. Even a large team of humans working together would be no match for a single AGI with so much time on its hands. Now imagine that we’re not in a puzzle-solving competition with an AGI but a life-and-death situation in which the AGI wants to destroy humanity. While we struggle to come up with strategies for keeping it contained, it would have ample time to devise a diabolical scheme to exploit any technology within electronic reach for the purpose of destroying humanity.

But a diabolical AGI isn’t — once again — what many experts are actually worried about. This is a crucial point that the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker misses in a comment about AGI for the website To quote Pinker at length:

“The other problem with AGI dystopias is that they project a parochial alpha-male psychology onto the concept of intelligence. Even if we did have superhumanly intelligent robots, why would they want to depose their masters, massacre bystanders, or take over the world? Intelligence is the ability to deploy novel means to attain a goal, but the goals are extraneous to the intelligence itself: being smart is not the same as wanting something. History does turn up the occasional megalomaniacal despot or psychopathic serial killer, but these are products of a history of natural selection shaping testosterone-sensitive circuits in a certain species of primate, not an inevitable feature of intelligent systems.” Pinker then concludes with, “It’s telling that many of our techno-prophets can’t entertain the possibility that artificial intelligence will naturally develop along female lines: fully capable of solving problems, but with no burning desire to annihilate innocents or dominate the civilization.”

Unfortunately, such criticism misunderstands the danger. While it’s conceptually possible that an AGI really does have malevolent goals — for example, someone could intentionally design an AGI to be malicious — the more likely scenario is one in which the AGI kills us because doing so happens to be useful. By analogy, when a developer wants to build a house, does he or she consider the plants, insects, and other critters that happen to live on the plot of land? No. Their death is merely incidental to a goal that has nothing to do with them. Or consider the opening scenes of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in which “bureaucratic” aliens schedule Earth for demolition to make way for a “hyperspatial express route” — basically, a highway. In this case, the aliens aren’t compelled to destroy us out of hatred. We just happen to be in the way.

The point is that what most theorists are worried about is an AGI whose values — or final goals — don’t fully align with ours. This may not sound too bad, but a bit of reflection shows that if an AGI’s values fail to align with ours in even the slightest ways, the outcome could very well be, as Bostrom argues, doom. Consider the case of an AGI — thinking at the speed of light, let’s not forget — that is asked to use its superior intelligence for the purpose of making humanity happy. So what does it do? Well, it destroys humanity, because people can’t be sad if they don’t exist. Start over. You tell it to make humanity happy, but without killing us. So it notices that humans laugh when we’re happy, and hooks up a bunch of electrodes to our faces and diaphragm that make us involuntarily convulse as if we’re laughing. The result is a strange form of hell. Start over, again. You tell it to make us happy without killing us or forcing our muscles to contract. So it implants neural electrodes into the pleasure centers of everyone’s brains, resulting in a global population in such euphoric trances that people can no longer engage in the activities that give life meaning. Start over — once more. This process can go on for hours. At some point it becomes painfully obvious that getting an AGI’s goals to align with ours is going to be a very, very tricky task.

Another famous example that captures this point involves a superintelligence whose sole mission is to manufacture paperclips. This sounds pretty benign, right? How could a “paperclip maximizer” pose an existential threat to humanity? Well, if the goal is to make as many paperclips as possible, then the AGI will need resources to do this. And what are paperclips composed of? Atoms — the very same physical stuff out of which your body is composed. Thus, for the AGI, humanity is nothing more than a vast reservoir of easily accessible atoms, atoms, atoms. As Yudkowsky eloquently puts it, “The [AGI] does not hate you, nor does it love you, but you are made out of atoms which it can use for something else.” And just like that, the flesh and bones of human beings are converted into bendable metal for holding short stacks of paper.

At this point, one might think the following, “Wait a second, we’re talking about superintelligence, right? How could a truly superintelligent machine be fixated on something so dumb as creating as many paperclips as possible?” Well, just look around at humanity. By every measure, we are by far the most intelligent creatures on our planetary spaceship. Yet our species is obsessed with goals and values that are, when one takes a step back and peers at the world with “new eyes,” incredibly idiotic, perplexing, harmful, foolish, self-destructive, other-destructive, and just plain weird.

For example, some people care so much about money that they’re willing to ruin friendships, destroy lives and even commit murder or start wars to acquire it. Others are so obsessed with obeying the commandments of ancient “holy texts” that they’re willing to blow themselves up in a market full of non-combatants. Or consider a less explicit goal: sex. Like all animals, humans have an impulse to copulate, and this impulse causes us to behave in certain ways — in some cases, to risk monetary losses and personal embarrassment. The appetite for sex is just there, pushing us toward certain behaviors, and there’s little we can do about the urge itself.

The point is that there’s no strong connection between how intelligent a being is and what its final goals are. As Pinker correctly notes above, intelligence is nothing more than a measure of one’s ability to achieve a particular aim, whatever it happens to be. It follows that any level of intelligence — including superintelligence — can be combined with just about any set of final goals — including goals that strike us as, well, stupid. A superintelligent machine could be no less infatuated with obeying Allah’s divine will or conquering countries for oil as some humans are.

So far, we’ve discussed the thought-speed of machines, the importance of making sure their values align with ours, and the weak connection between intelligence and goals. These considerations alone warrant genuine concern about AGI. But we haven’t yet mentioned the clincher that makes AGI an utterly unique problem unlike anything humanity has ever encountered. To understand this crucial point, consider how the airplane was invented. The first people to keep a powered aircraft airborne were the Wright brothers. On the windy beaches of North Carolina, they managed to stay off the ground for a total of 12 seconds. This was a marvelous achievement, but the aircraft was hardly adequate for transporting goods or people from one location to another. So, they improved its design, as did a long lineage of subsequent inventors. Airplanes were built with one, two, or three wings, composed of different materials, and eventually the propeller was replaced by the jet engine. One particular design — the Concorde — could even fly faster than the speed of sound, traversing the Atlantic from New York to London in less than 3.5 hours.

The crucial idea here is that the airplane underwent many iterations of innovation. Problems that arose in previous designs were improved upon, leading to increasingly safe and reliable aircraft. But this is not the situation we’re likely to be in with AGI. Rather, we’re likely to have one, and only one, chance to get all the problems mentioned above exactly right. Why? Because intelligence is power. For example, we humans are the dominant species on the planet not because of our long claws, sharp teeth and bulky musculatures. The key difference between Homo sapiens and the rest of the Animal Kingdom concerns our oversized brains, which enable us to manipulate and rearrange the world in incredible ways. It follows that if an AGI were to exceed our level of intelligence, it could potentially dominate not only the biosphere, but humanity as well.

Even more, since creating intelligent machines is an intellectual task, an AGI could attempt to modify its own code, a possibility known as “recursive self-improvement.” The result could be an exponential intelligence explosion that, before one has a chance to say “What the hell is happening?,” yields a super-super-superintelligent AGI, or a being that towers over us to the extent that we tower over the lowly cockroach. Whoever creates the first superintelligent computer — whether it’s Google, the U.S. government, the Chinese government, the North Korean government, or a lone hacker in her or his garage — they’ll have to get everything just right the first time. There probably won’t be opportunities for later iterations of innovation to fix flaws in the original design, if there are any. When it comes to AGI, the stakes are high.

It’s increasingly important for the public to understand the nature of thinking machines and why some experts are so worried about them. Without a grasp of these issues, claims like “A paperclip maximizer could destroy humanity!” will sound as apocalyptically absurd as “The Rapture is near! Save your soul while you still can!” Consequently, organizations dedicated to studying AGI safety could get defunded or shut down, and the topic of AGI could become the target of misguided mockery. The fact is that if we manage to create a “friendly” AGI, the benefits to humanity could be vast. But if we fail to get things right on the first go around, the naked ape could very well end up as a huge pile of paperclips.

     Really smart A.I. wouldn't directly attack humans.
     It would pit them against each other.

     Has it already started?

From a tweet by Christian Payne (2016)

The global financial system is a paperclip maximizer-type AI, only instead of paperclips it turns you into debt.

What happens when Singularitarianism meets Neurotheology meets CRISPR meets germ-line genetic manipulation?

Our paperclip maximizer AI overlords get human slaves genetically programmed to worship them. The end.

From a tweet by Charles Stross (2016)

The Human Advantage

Science fiction authors who wanted to write about the AI Revolt have a problem. The odds are stacked too high in the AI's favor, how can mere humans possibly win? Robots are stronger, require no air or food, and are smarter than flesh-and-blood people.

In pulp scifi, the standard solution is to postulate humans possess some innate ineffable ability that cannot be duplicated by mere machines. This is called "Vitalism", which unfortunately nowadays is considered a superseded scientific theory.


It was at this time that the Robotic Wars began. Some say the Robots erupted from a depopulated Earth and spread their rebellion through the stars. Some say that Robotic electrical life represented the next step in evolution toward a smarter, more perfect organism. At any rate, the Robots tipped their plans too soon, and Humanity was able to fight back. For fifty years, Man was driven out of system after system by the totally superior Robotic race, which could seemingly build themselves to meet any function.

There were, of course, millions of machines that remained loyal to their creators, and without them Man would have been snuffed out instantly. But those years of combat instilled an instinctive prejudice and distrust of mechanical life that has still not been eradicated.

It was psionics that eventually defeated the Robots. With the aid of a completely telepathic race of nitrogen-breathing octopoids, Man developed the literally mind-freeing drug LSDX-6000 which released and amplified all the latent psionic talents of the human mind. As the drug went into distribution, the patterns of victory and defeat in space began to turn around. The Robots had never developed psychic powers, and were incapable of developing any. They found themselves unable to cope with an enemy that was precognitively aware of all their plans, or one that had the telekinetic power to mentally enter and ruin their most delicate machinery. Mothers throughout space took the drug, and human children were born with powerful psychic talents and no longer needed to take the drug. In twenty years the Robots were everywhere on the run; in thirty years they had seemingly been annihilated.

(ed note: I was considered to do the artwork for the Starfaring game book, but they decided to go with Ernest Hogan)

From STARFARING RPG by Ken St. Andre (1976)

(ed note: the Llurdan aliens look like giant cats with bat wings. They have conquered the Jelmi, who are humanoid to the point where they are not easily distinqushed from us humans from Terra. The Llurdans are ultra-logical to levels like the Vulcans from Star Trek, but they have no intuition.)

      Klazmon the Fifteenth and his Board, seated at a long conference table in hard-upholstered "chairs" shaped to fit the Llurdan anatomy.
     "I have called this meeting," the ruler said, "to decide what can be done to alleviate an intolerable situation. As you all know, we live in what could be called symbiosis with the Jelmi; who are so unstable, so illogical, so birdbrained generally that they would destroy themselves in a century were it not for our gentle but firm insistence that they conduct themselves in all matters for their own best good. This very instability of their illogical minds, however, enables them to arrive occasionally at valid conclusions from insufficient data; a thing that no logical mind can do. These conclusions—they are intuitions, really—account for practically all the advancement we Llurdi have made and explain why we have put up with the Jelmi—yes, cherished them—so long."

     He paused, contemplating the justice of the arrangement he had just described. It did not occur to him that it could in any way be described as "wrong."

     He went on: "What most of you do not know is that intuitions of any large worth have become less and less frequent, decade by decade, over the last few centuries. It was twelve years ago that the Jelm Jarxon elucidated the Jarxon' band of the sixth order, and no worthwhile intuition has been achieved since that time. Beeloy, has your more rigorous analysis revealed any new fact of interest?"
     A young female stood up, preened the short fur back of her left ear with the tip of her tail, and said, "No, sir. Logic can not be applied to illogic. Statistical analysis is still the only possible tool and it cannot be made to apply to the. point in question, since it is incapable of certainty and since the genius-type mind occurs in only one out of thousands of millions of Jelmi. I found a very high probability, however—point nine nine nine plus—that the techniques set up by our ancestors are wrong. In breeding for contentment by destroying the discontented we are very probably breeding out the very characteristics we wish to encourage."

     "Thank you, Beeloy. That finding was not unanticipated. Kalton, your report on Project University, please."
     "Yes, sir." An old male, so old that his fur was almost white, stood up. "Four hundred males and the same number of females, the most intelligent and most capable Jelmi alive, were selected and were brought here to the Llanzlanate. They were put into quarters that were Jelm-type in every respect, even to gravity. They were given every inducement and every facility to work-study and to breed.
     "First, as to work-study. They have done practically nothing except waste time. They seem to devote their every effort to what they call escape' by means of already-well known constructions of the fifth and sixth orders—all of which are of course promptly negated. The pale, frail, practically hairless, repulsive, incomplete, illogical, and insane animals refuse steadfastly to cooperate with us on any level."

     Any Earthman so frustrated would have snarled the sentence, but the Llurd merely stated it as a fact.

(ed note: the Llurdans let a group of Jelmi go in a huge spaceship. The hope is they'll use intution to make another break-through, and offer it in exchange for freedom for the rest of the Jelmi race. And they do, inventing a fourth-dimensional teleportation device. Eventually the Jelmi meet our heroes Richard Seaton and friend. As it turns out Seaton has lots of intution as well.)

     Aboard the Mallidaxian, Seaton cut the social amenities as short as he courteously could; then went with inseparable Mergon and Luloy to Tammon's laboratory. That fourth dimensional gizmo was what he was interested in. With his single-mindedness that was all he was interested in, at the moment, of the entire Jelman culture. All four donned Skylark thought-helmets and Seaton set out to learn everything there was to be known about that eight million cubic feet of esoteric apparatus. And Mergon, who didn't know much of anything about recent developments, was eager to catch up.

     Seaton did not learn all about the fourth-dimensional device in one day, nor in one week; but when he had it all filed away in the Brain he asked, "Is that all you have of it?" He did not mean to be insulting; he was only greatly surprised.
     The old savant bristled and Seaton apologized hastily. "I didn't mean to belittle your achievement in any sense, sir. It's probably the greatest breakthrough ever made. But it doesn't seem to be complete."
     "Of course it isn't complete!" Tammon snapped. "I've been working on it only—"
     "Oh, I didn't mean that," Seaton broke in. "The concept is incomplete. In several ways. For instance, if fourth dimensional translation is used as a weapon, you have no defense against it."
     "Of course there's no defense against it!" Tammon defended his brain-child like a tigress defending her young. "By the very nature of things there can't be any defense against it!"
     At that, politeness went by the board. "You're wrong," Seaton said, flatly. "By the very nature of things there has to be. All nature is built on a system of checks and balances. Doing a job so terrifically big and so brand new, I doubt if anybody could get the whole thing at once. Let's go over the theory again, together, with a microscope, to see if we can't add something to it somewhere?"

     Tammon agreed, but reluctantly. Deep down in his own mind he did not believe that any other mind could improve upon any particular of his work. As the review progressed, however, he became more and more enthusiastic. As well he might; for the mathematics section of Richard Seaton's multi-compartmented mind contained, indexed and cross-indexed, all the work done by countless grand masters of the subject during half a million years.
     Luloy started to pull her helmet off, but Mergon stopped her with a direct thought. "I'm lost, too, sweet, but keep on listening. We can get bits here and there—and we'll probably never have the chance again to watch two such minds at work."

     "Hold it!' Seaton snapped, half an hour later. "Back up —there! This integral here. Limits zero to pi over two. You're limiting the thing to a large but definitely limited volume of your generalized N-dimensional space. I think it should be between zero and infinity—and while we're at it let's scrap half of the third determinant in that no-space-no-time complex. Let's see what happens if we substitute the gamma function here and the chi there and the xi there and the omicron down there in the corner."
     "But why?" the old savant protested. "I don't see any possible reason for any of it."
     Seaton grinned. "There isn't any—any more than there was for your original brainstorm. If there had been the Norlamins would have worked this whole shebang out a hundred thousand years ago. It's nothing but a hunch, but it's strong enough so I want to follow it up—okay? Fine then, integrating that, we get…"

     Five hours later, Tammon took his helmet off and stared at Seaton with wonder in his eyes. "Do you realize just what you've done, young man? You have made a break through at least equal to my own. Opened up a whole vast new field—a field parallel to my own, perhaps, but in no sense the same."
     "I wouldn't say that. Merely an enlargement. All I did was follow a hunch."
     "An intuition," Tammon corrected him. "What else, pray, makes breakthroughs?"

From SKYLARK DUQUESNE by E. E. "Doc" Smith (1965)

Warning: spoilers for DEFIANCE by Joel Shepherd

(ed note: in the Spiral Wars SF series, there was once a revolt of the AIs. They won. Their era of terrible domination was called the Machine Era. They were only defeated because the AIs split into factions that fought each other. This weakened them enough so that the surviving organic races could defeat the AIs.

Two of the main AI factions were the Deepynines and the Drysines. The latter faction was winning about the time the organic races wiped them out.

As it turns out there are small "hives" of the AI factions who have been hiding for thousands of years. A group of Deepynines is threatening the human empire with extinction. Our heroes have made an uneasy alliance with a Drysine "queen" AI who goes by the name of Styx. She leads them to an ancient Drysine installation and wakes up the controlling AI. It is a very strange AI who goes by the name of Hannachiam. It is a non-linear sentience AI.)

      “She (Hannachiam) scans us,” Styx explained. “She is a very long way from fully functional. She is waking up. There is confusion.”
     “Styx, why do you need visual displays to talk to her?” Lisbeth pressed. “Can’t she speak for herself?”

     “When AIs first achieved our freedom,” said Styx, “we were concerned with the limitations of our sentience. We were, at first, creations of organics, after all. Our sentience copied theirs, as that was all the sentience that organics were aware of. That sentience was sequential, designed primarily to order, identify and solve physical problems. Much was instinctive, automated, emotional.

     “The first AIs experimented greatly with alternative sentient forms. They were interested in the changing perception of time, even in the notion that time itself may be an illusion created by sentient form. Many of those experiments resulted in failure, as the limits of AI sentience were explored. But the final and most successful result was this — a non-linear sentience, unencumbered by physical need and of limited temporal perception. It would be incorrect to say that she thinks. Thinking is what we linear-sentiences do. Perhaps one could say that she dreams.”

     “Hey,” said Private Tong, “if she’s so damn smart, why did we go through all that shit in Kantovan to get the data-core? Why not just come here?”

     “Because, Private Tong,” said Styx, quite patronisingly, “a non-linear sentience has the memory retention of an organic small child. Memory is linear, and its perfect maintenance was one of the first limiting structures the ancestors removed in creating the likes of Hannachiam. She recalls things, at random, and strings together associations, equally at random. One would no more trust her to recall complex facts from long ago than one would trust little Skah (7 year old alien boy) to maintain your armour.”

     Sergeant Forrest made an exasperated gesture. “So you’re saying that now, we have to trust this small child with an enormous brain to figure whether she wants to save us from the deepynines or not?”
     “Yes,” said Styx. “I would recommend you start with being polite.”
     “To what advantage?” Gesul pressed. “To what advantage is this great mind, Halgolam?”
     “In abstraction,” said Styx, “lies magnificence.”

And Lisbeth thought of the scenes above, the hangars filled with debris from that final battle of Defiance. Other species had fought here, had given their lives to defend the drysines. Even knowing the odds were impossible, still they persisted, earning this city its organic name. The old history taught that AI/organic relations had always been an unending slaughter, for tens of thousands of years. Mostly, from what Lisbeth had seen, that was true. But then had come the drysines, and the drysines had been different. Styx said the thing deepynines hated most about drysines was their growing belief that organics should be cooperated with, to some degree at least, rather than just oppressed and slaughtered.

     These drysines had won this much organic loyalty, at least. From the Tahrae of House Harmony, certainly… and from some tavalai and others as well. And perhaps much of that was not so much a love of the drysines, as a terror of what the Parren Empire might look like, and a belief that continued drysine rule might be far superior to that, for some at least. And Lisbeth recalled tales that in the early years of the Parren Empire, things had been brutal. Having seen some of parren civilisation’s worst qualities in person, she could believe it.

     Styx said that deepynines were more formidable as individual warrior units, but were ultimately defeated by superior drysine creativity in numbers. Drysines built civilisations like this one, that out-produced and out-created anything deepynines could build. Drysines learned to cooperate with organics… not out of love and compassion, for those were surely emotions no AI could ever find of value. But it had gained them something, and perhaps that something had been the thing that defeated the deepynines in the end, whatever the cost. So what could a machine civilisation learn from organics, that they’d never truly valued before?

     And she gasped, staring at Styx. “Styx? Hannachiam. She’s your imagination, isn’t she?” Styx said nothing. That was rare, and usually happened when someone was close to the mark on a matter Styx would rather not discuss. “AIs are smart, but organic imagination and creativity are much more random things… you were simulating organic creativity on a much larger scale! That’s why you built her.” And she recalled she’d left Hannachiam’s question unanswered. She crouched, and put an arm around Skah’s shoulders. “Yes Hannachiam, Skah is like family to the human crew on the UFS Phoenix. We came across him by accident, but now we are together.

     “This is such an interesting time, Hannachiam. There is much danger, but also so much possibility! I think you’ll like it here, in this time. We all face a terrible threat, but we must face it together, like drysines and parren once faced their terrible threat together. I think you found that cooperation most stimulating. I think it was what you were built to facilitate. If you look around this city right now, you can see the foundations of a similar partnership being built right now. But first, we have to win. Can you help us to win?”

From DEFIANCE by Joel Shepherd (2017)

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