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

Societal Control

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 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 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: 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)

Because Clio was a sealed world, the final stages of their search must be conducted in complete secrecy, as quickly as possible, using Service devices. And the Project demanded as small a task force as was necessary. Which had sent Roane to Cram-brief to learn as much of Clio as she might need to know.

She wondered what it would be like to live on a closed planet (not for the period of days they would set down there but for a lifetime). Of course, the whole theory which had established the closed planets was wrong; such manipulation of human beings broke the Four Laws. Clio had been settled two, maybe three hundred years ago when the Psychocrats dominated the Confederation, before the Overturn of 1404. It was the third such experimental planet rediscovered, though there were rumors that there had been more, no one knew how many. The blasting of the Forqual Center during the revolt of the Overturn had destroyed most records.

All those worlds had been chosen as sites for projects which were the particular interest of one of the Hierarchy of the Psychocrats. The original colonists, braincleared, given false implanted memories, were settled in communities which to their briefed minds seemed natural to their new worlds. They were then left to work out new types of civilization, or a lack of civilization—to be watched secretly at intervals.

When such inhabited test planets were now rediscovered, they were declared closed. For none of the authorities could be sure what the impact of the truth might do to their peoples. Less advanced they were, as well as mutated on at least one planet. But on Clio the inhabitants were entirely human, though they were living in an archaic way, much as Roane's ancestors had lived several hundred years before space flight

What the Psychocrat who had established Clio had been aiming for was now not certain. But the Service thought he had set up something akin to the old Europa plan known on Terra. The large eastern continent had been divided into an irregular pattern of small kingdoms. The two western continents had been otherwise "seeded" with "natives" at a far more primitive level of culture—wandering tribes of hunters. And then they had all been left to their own devices.

On the eastern continent a series of wars for territorial expansion had ended with the establishment of two large nations, fronting each other uneasily across a border of small buffer states which still possessed their freedom, mainly because the two great powers were as yet unready to strike at each other. Intrigues, minor skirmishes, the rise and fall of dynasties were all a part of life on Clio. It was, to an onlooker from the stars, a giant game, though one in which lives were lost by a badly managed stroke of play.

In the west the tribesmen, too, fought each other; but since they remained on a more primitive level, the cost in blood had not yet been so great. However, Roane need not consider them. It was on the eastern land mass that her party would make their secret landing, in one of those small buffer states between the great powers.

But the beam had picked up something else, a change in the wall to their right. Roane pressed to that side and then halted at a slab of transparent material. Inside—an installation! It could be nothing else. Rows of machines, with here and there a flashing point of colored light. She pressed her face to the glass, trying to see more of what lay there. But the light was too intermittent—she had only glimpses as one flash was echoed by another. Green, blue, red, orange, a multitude of colors and combinations. Yet those did not reflect into the passage where she stood. "Come on!" The Princess was ahead, paying no attention to what held Roane fascinated. "Why do you stop?" "The lights—this must be an installation. But what—" Ludorica came back reluctantly. "What lights?" she demanded, flashing the beamer directly onto the panel, thus revealing two machines of pillar shape inside, spinning off flecks of color. "What lights?" The Princess pulled at Roane's arm. "Why do you stand staring at bare wall and talking of lights? Are you mind-twisted?" She dropped her hold, drew back a little. "What do you see there, then?" Roane asked. "Wall—just as there, and there, and there—" With a stabbing finger the Princess pointed ahead, to the side, behind them. "Nothing but wall."

Roane was shaken. But she did see a strange installation behind a transparent panell She could not be mistaken or imagine that! There could be only one reason why the Princess did not see it too—conditioning!

And such conditioning could mean something else. Roane's thoughts took a leap into dark surmise. Perhaps what they had uncovered was not Forerunner remains, but rather something left by the Psychocrats who had decreed Clio's fate. While such a find might not have as much impact as the discovery of a genuine Forerunner installation, it could be important in another way. The Service knew little of the techniques of conditioning on the various closed worlds. To discover part of such an experiment might excite those in fields beyond that which Uncle Offas represented. So she might have a bargaining point after all, some claim for consideration for the Princess.

The Psychocrats had once forced men on unknown worlds into experiments. And when their horrible reign had been finally broken, their mind-slaves freed, the results of both the meddling and the liberation had been, for two generations now, a dire warning to all humankind. Even if she had not known Ludorica or the Colonel, had not been herself sucked into the web which enmeshed Clio, Roane would still have been aroused to anger by this discovery. Just as the people of Clio were conditioned to obey the machines their enslavers had set up generations ago, so was she armed to fight such influences. Sandar might name them puppets, which perhaps technically they were, but Roane had lived with them. And they were real people, far warmer of nature than the two now hustling her along.

From ICE CROWN by Andre Norton (1970)

Lie Detector

A lie detector is a jolly science fiction gadget which often comes in handy. I say "science fiction" because they don't exist in the real world. This is because that hoary old lie detector called the "polygraph" is utterly worthless. In science fiction, the concept dates back at least as far as G K Chesterton's 1913 story "The Mistake of the Machine".

And obviously a working lie detector cannot detect a lie uttered by a person who truly believes the lie is truth. Because as far as the person is concerned it isn't a lie at all. It is also sometimes possible for people to circumvent the lie detector by telling literal but misleading truths (example: "The Best Policy" by Randall Garrett).

A related concept is the scifi truth compeller (interfering with the subject's ability to deceive). However in the real world so-called Truth Serums have not been proven to be more reliable than a placebo, they are utterly worthless.


      Haze-Gaunt nodded to Shey, who stepped up and swiftly strapped a disc-like thing to her arm—a portable verigraph. The needles that circulated venous blood through the instrument stung sharply; then the pain was gone. The thing’s eye blinked green at each heartbeat. She rubbed her arm above the instrument.
     They would make her own body betray her. They would program it with their insidious drugs, and then they would feed questions to it, just as though they were talking to a computer, and the answers would flash out as colors on that incorruptible little crystal, just like lines slavishly jumping out on a CRT. Green for truth, red for lies. Destroyed by a needle prick. She couldn’t even claim they had broken her under torture. It was bitterly unfair. She suppressed a whimper.

     Haze-Gaunt waited a moment for the scopolamine to take effect. Then he asked, “Had you ever known Alar before tonight?”
     “No,” she replied with what she believed perfect truth.
     To her utter amazement and wondering surmise, the blinking green eye of the instrument turned slowly red.
     “You have seen him before,” observed Haze-Gaunt grimly. “You should know better than to try to deceive the verigraph on the first question. You know well enough that it is effective over a three-minute period.”

(ed note: three minutes of questioning pass)

     “Do you receive orders from the Meganet Mind?”
     It was no use. She knew without looking at the light that it must surely have betrayed her
.      Oddly, she felt only relief. They had got it out of her without pain. She couldn’t blame herself.
     Then “Barbellion?” asked Thurmond dubiously, naming the Colonel of the Imperial Guards.

     She froze. The three minutes had passed. The verigraph was no longer registering. The light must not have turned red on the name “The Meganet Mind.”
     “We’ve run over the time a little,” interposed Haze-Gaunt, frowning. “Her blood is buffered again, and her reactions for the last questions were meaningless. We’ll have to wait six or seven days for another try at the truth.”

From FLIGHT INTO YESTERDAY by Charles Harness (1949)

In one huge room, ballroom or concertroom or something, there were prisoners herded, and men from the Nemesis were setting up polyencaphalographic veridicators, sturdy chairs with wires and adjustable helmets and translucent globes mounted over them. A couple of Morland's men were hustling a People's Watchman to one and strapping him into a chair.

"You know what this is, don't you?" one of them was saying. "This is a veridicator. That globe'll light blue; the moment you try to lie to us, it'll turn red. And the moment it turns red, I'm going to hammer your teeth down your throat with the butt of this pistol."

From SPACE VIKING by H. Beam Piper (1962)

     "Why, thank you, Mr. Stenson." He shook hands with the old master instrument maker. "If you could make me a pocket veridicator, to use on some of these people who claim they saw them, it would be a big help."
     "Well, I do make rather small portable veridicators for the constabulary, but I think what you need is an instrument for detection of psychopaths, and that's slightly beyond science at present."

     Piet Dumont, the Mallorysport chief of police, might have been a good cop once, but for as long as Gus Brannhard had known him, he had been what he was now--an empty shell of unsupported arrogance, with a sagging waistline and a puffy face that tried to look tough and only succeeded in looking unpleasant. He was sitting in a seat that looked like an old fashioned electric chair, or like one of those instruments of torture to which beauty-shop customers submit themselves. There was a bright conical helmet on his head, and electrodes had been clamped to various portions of his anatomy. On the wall behind him was a circular screen which ought to have been a calm turquoise blue, but which was flickering from dark blue through violet to mauve. That was simple nervous tension and guilt and anger at the humiliation of being subjected to veridicated interrogation. Now and then there would be a stabbing flicker of bright red as he toyed mentally with some deliberate misstatement of fact.

     "You know, yourself, that the Fuzzies didn't hurt that girl," Brannhard told him.
     "I don't know anything of the kind," the police chief retorted. "All I know's what was reported to me."
     That had started out a bright red; gradually it faded into purple. Evidently Piet Dumont was adopting a rules-of-evidence definition of truth.
     "Who told you about it?"
     "Luther Woller. Detective lieutenant on duty at the time."
     The veridicator agreed that that was the truth and not much of anything but the truth.
     "But you know that what really happened was that Lurkin beat the girl himself, and Woller persuaded them both to say the Fuzzies did it," Max Fane said.
     "I don't know anything of the kind!" Dumont almost yelled. The screen blazed red. "All I know's what they told me; nobody said anything else." Red and blue, juggling in a typical quibbling pattern. "As far as I know, it was the Fuzzies done it."
     "Now, Piet," Fane told him patiently. "You've used this same veridicator here often enough to know you can't get away with lying on it. Woller's making you the patsy for this, and you know that, too. Isn't it true, now, that to the best of your knowledge and belief those Fuzzies never touched that girl, and it wasn't till Woller talked to Lurkin and his daughter at headquarters that anybody even mentioned Fuzzies?"
     The screen darkened to midnight blue, and then, slowly, it lightened.
     "Yeah, that's true," Dumont admitted. He avoided their eyes, and his voice was surly.

     When the deputy marshal touched his shoulder and spoke to him, he didn't think, at first, that his legs would support him. It seemed miles, with all the staring faces on either side of him. Somehow, he reached the chair and sat down, and they fitted the helmet over his head and attached the electrodes. They used to make a witness take some kind of an oath to tell the truth. They didn't any more. They didn't need to.

     As soon as the veridicator was on, he looked up at the big screen behind the three judges; the globe above his head was a glaring red. There was a titter of laughter. Nobody in the Courtroom knew better than he what was happening. He had screens in his laboratory that broke it all down into individual patterns—the steady pulsing waves from the cortex, the alpha and beta waves; beta-aleph and beta-beth and beta-gimel and beta-daleth. The thalamic waves. He thought of all of them, and of the electromagnetic events which accompanied brain activity. As he did, the red faded and the globe became blue. He was no longer suppressing statements and substituting other statements he knew to be false. If he could keep it that way. But, sooner or later, he knew, he wouldn't be able to.

From LITTLE FUZZY by H. Beam Piper (1962)

(ed note: in the novel, it turns out that Terra is actually a ten-thousand year old long-lost colony of The Fourth Imperium. The imperials are trying to unify Terra before the dreaded Achuultani genocide fleet arrives and nukes Terra into a smooth radioactive glassy sphere. The nation of China is reluctant to join, but instead of China being put under direction of an Imperial, it is instead assigned to Chinese grand marshal Tsien. Who uses Imperial lie-detector technology to great effect when putting down the local guerrillas.)

In a sense, Hatcher's injuries had been very much to their advantage. If any other member of the chiefs of staff was his equal in every way, it was Tsien. They were very different; Tsien lacked Hatcher's ease with people and the flair which made exquisitely choreographed operations seem effortless, but he was tireless, analytical, eternally self-possessed, and as inexorable as a Juggernaut yet flexibly pragmatic. He'd streamlined their organization, moved their construction and training schedules ahead by almost a month, and—most importantly of all—stamped out the abortive guerrilla war in Asia with a ruthlessness Hatcher himself probably could not have displayed.

Horus had been more than a little horrified at the way Tsien went about it. He hadn’t worried about taking armed resisters prisoner, and those he'd taken had been summarily court-martialed and executed usually within twenty-four hours. His reaction teams had been everywhere, filling Horus with the fear that Hatcher had made a rare and terrible error in recommending him as his replacement. There'd been an elemental implacability about the huge Chinese, one that made Horus wonder if he even cared who was innocent and who guilty.

Yet he'd made himself wait, and time had proved the wisdom of his decision. Ruthless and implacable, yes, and also a man tormented by shame; Tsien had been those things, for it had been his officers who had betrayed their trust. But he'd been just as ruthlessly just. Every individual caught in his nets had been sorted out under an Imperial lie detector, and the innocent were freed as quickly as they had been apprehended. Nor had he permitted any unnecessary brutality to taint his actions or those of his men.

Even more importantly, perhaps, he was no "Westerner" punishing patriots who had struck back against occupation but their own commander-in-chief, acting with the full support of Party and government, and no one reputation, and the fact that he had been selected to replace the wounded Hatcher, had done more to cement Asian support of the new government and military than anything else ever could have.

Within two weeks, all attacks had ended. Within a month, there was no more guerrilla movement. Every one of its leaders had been apprehended and executed; none were imprisoned.

Nor had the chilling message been lost upon the rest of the world. Horus had agonized over the brutal suppression of the African riots, but Tsien's lesson had gone home. There was still unrest, but the world's news channels had carried live coverage of the trials and executions, and outbursts of open violence had ended almost overnight.


     “Yes, Colonel?” Ann Chang’s amplified voice filled the room (from the speakerphone). “What can we do for you?”
     “We need a full shipping schedule as soon as possible,” Falkenberg said. “All space traffic from now through the end of the year.”
     “Of—of course, Colonel. But you know not all traffic is scheduled—”
     “Yes, of course,” Falkenberg said impatiently.

     Captain Rottermill frowned and reached under the table for his briefcase.

     “I’ll send you a copy of everything we have at the moment. If you’ll wait just a moment. It’ll take a few minutes to search the files.”
     Rottermill set his briefcase on the table in front of him and lifted out a small plastic box. He pressed a switch on it and placed it facing Falkenberg’s speakerphone.
     “We can wait,” Falkenberg said. He glanced at Rottermill and raised one eyebrow. Rottermill nodded curtly.
     “Colonel, the computers are doing odd things with the data base,” Ann Chang said. “Let—let me call you back, please.”

     Falkenberg glanced at Rottermill. The intelligence officer nodded again. “Very well,” Falkenberg said. “We really do need that schedule. We’ll wait for your call.”
     “Thank you, Colonel,” Ann Chang said. “It’ll be just a few minutes. I appreciate your patience—”
     “Not at all. Goodbye.” Falkenberg punched the off button, looked to make sure the connection was broken, and looked back to Rottermill. “Well?”
     Rottermill turned the Voice Stress Analyzer so that Falkenberg could see the readout. A line of X’s reached far into the red zone. “Colonel, she’s scared stiff.”
     “What put you onto her?” Ian Frazer asked.
     Rottermill shrugged. “Do enough interrogations and you get a feel for it. Mind you, this isn’t certain. That damn scrambler could affect the patterns. But I’ll bet dinner for a week that woman’s hiding something. Three days’ dinners it’s something to do with shipping schedules.”
     Jeremy Savage laughed. “Rottermill, I doubt anyone will take your bets no matter how you dress them up. I certainly won’t.”

From PRINCE OF MERCENARIES by Jerry Pournelle (1989)

(ed note: the Stainless Steel Rat has infiltrated an enemy base, disguised as an officer named Vaska. Suddenly the base's security officer wants to question all the officers under a lie detector.)

      “You officers, the few among you who were sober enough that is, may have heard an explosion and seen a cloud of smoke while you were on the way here. This explosion was caused by an individual who entered this base and is still undetected in our midst. We know nothing about him, but suspect that he is an offworld spy…”
     This drew a gasp and a murmur as might be expected and the gray man waited a moment until he continued.
     “We are making an intensive search for this individual. Since you gentlemen were in the immediate vicinity I am going to talk to you one at a time to find out what you might know. I also may discover … which one of you is the missing spy.”
     This last shaft exacted only a shocked silence. Now that he had everyone in the right mental condition for cross-examining the gray man began calling officers forward one at a time. I was doubly grateful for the foresight that had dropped me off the truck onto the side of my head.

     It was no accident that I was the third man called forward. On what grounds? General resemblance in build to the offworld spy Pas Ratunkowy? My delayed arrival at Glupost? The bandage? Some basis of suspicion must have existed. I dragged forward with slow speed just as the others had done. I saluted and he pointed to the chair next to the desk.
     “Why don’t you hold this while we talk,” he said in a reasonable voice, passing over the silver egg of a polygraph transmitter.
     The real Vaska would not have recognized it, so I didn’t. I just looked at it with slight interest—as though I did not know it was transmitting vital information to the lie detector before him—and clutched it in my hand. My thoughts were not as calm.
     I’m caught! He has me! He knows who I am and is just toying with me!
     He looked deep into my bloodshot eyes and I detected a slight curl of distaste to his mouth.
     “You have had quite a night of it. Lieutenant Hulja,” he said quietly, his eyes on the sheaf of papers—and on the lie detector readout as well.
     “Yes sir, you know … having a few last drinks with the boys.” That was what I said aloud. What I thought was ‘They will shoot me, dead, right through the heart!’ and I could visualize that vital organ spouting my life’s blood into the dirt.
     “I see you recently had your rank reduced—and where are your fuses, Pas Ratunkowy?”
     Am I tired … wish I was in the sack I thought.
     “Fuses, sir?” I blinked my red orbs and reached to scratch my head and touched the bandage and thought better of it. His eyes glared into mine, gray eyes almost the color of his uniform, and for a moment I caught the strength and anger behind his quiet manners.
     “And your head wound—where did you get that? Our offworld spy was struck on the side of the head.”
     “I fell, sir, someone must have pushed me. Out of the truck. The soldiers bandaged it, ask them …”
     “I already have. Drunk and falling down and a disgrace to the officer corps. Get away and clean yourself up, you disgust me. Next man.”
     I climbed unsteadily to my feet, not looking into the steady glare of those cold eyes, and stared off as though I had forgotten the device in my hand, then turned back and dropped it on his desk, but he was bent over the papers and ignoring me. I could see a faint scar under the thin hair of his balding crown. I left.

     Fooling a polygraph takes skill, practice and training. All of which I had. It can only be done in certain circumstances and this one had been ideal. A sudden interview without normalizing tests being run on the subject. Therefore I began the interview in a near panic—before any questions had been asked. All of this must have peaked nicely on his graph. I was afraid. Of him, of something, anything. But when he had asked the loaded question meant to uncover a spy—the question I knew was coming—I had relaxed and the readout had shown this. The question was a meaningless one to anyone but the offworlder. Once he saw this the interview was over, he had plenty more to do.

From THE STAINLESS STEEL RAT'S REVENGE by Harry Harrison (1970)

(ed note: the alien Dal of the Dal Empire are exploring to find planets to conquer. They stumble over a Terran settled planet named "New Hawaii". As per standard procedure, they abduct a sample inhabitant, use the Language Tank to teach it the Dal language, and interrogate it using the Dal Reality Detector. The latter is a super-duper lie detector, any statement that deviates from reality is reported as a lie.

They abduct Edwin Magruder. Edwin quickly discovers that the Reality Detector will detect even the smallest deviations from reality, and the Dal will punish him with electric shocks when he lies. It is pretty obvious that the Dal have bad intention for the human worlds. But how can he defeat the Dal Reality Detector?

Suddenly Edwin realizes he can thwart the machine by answering with perfect honesty, but also exploiting ambiguity in the alien's questions.)

      Although his voice sounded perfectly calm, Magruder, on the other side of the transparent wall, felt just a trifle shaky. He would have to think quickly and carefully from now on. He didn’t believe he’d care to take too much time in answering, either.
     "How many homo sapiens are there?”
     "Several billions.” There were actually about four billions, but the Dal equivalent of "several” was vaguely representative of numbers larger than five, although not necessarily so.
     "Don’t you know the actual number?”
     "No,”' said Magruder. Not right down to the man, I don’t.
     The needle didn’t quiver. Naturally not—he was telling the truth, wasn’t he?
     "All of your people surely aren’t on Earth, then?” Thagobar asked, deviating slightly from the script. "In only one city?”
     With a sudden flash of pure joy, Magruder saw the beautifully monstrous mistake the alien had made. He had not suspected until now that Earthmen had developed space travel. Therefore, when he had asked the name of Magruder’s home planet, the answer he’d gotten was "Earth.” But the alien had been thinking of (the human settled planet) New Hawaii! Wheeee! (Magruder was born on Earth, and emigrated to New Hawaii, where he was abducted by the Dal.)
     "Oh, no,” said Magruder truthfully, "we have only a few thousand down there.” Meaning, of course. New Hawaii, which was "down there.”
     "Then most of your people have deserted Earth?”
     "Deserted Earth?” Magruder sounded scandalized. "Heavens to Betsy, ho! We have merely colonized; we’re all under one central government.”
     "How many are there in each colony?” Thagobar had completely abandoned the script now.
     "I don’t know exactly,” Magruder told him, "but not one of our colonized planets has any more occupants on it than Earth.”
     Thagobar looked flabbergasted and flicked off the sound transmission to the prisoner with a swift movement of his finger.
     Zandoplith looked pained. "You are not reading the questions from the Handbook,” he complained.
     "I know, I know. But did you hear what he said?”
     "I heard it.” Zandoplith’s voice sounded morose.
     "It wasn’t true, was it?”
     Zandoplith drew himself up to his full five feet one. "Your Splendor, you have taken it upon yourself to deviate from the Handbook, but I will not permit you to question the operation of the Reality Detector. Reality is truth, and therefore truth is reality; the Detector hasn’t erred since … since ever
     "I know,” Thagobar said hastily. "But do you realize the implications of what he said? There are a few thousand people on the home planet; all the colonies have less. And yet, there are several billion of his race! That means they have occupied around ten million planets!”
     "I realize it sounds queer,” admitted Zandoplith, "but the detector never lies!” Then he realized whom he was addressing and added, "Your Splendor.”
     But Thagobar hadn’t noticed the breach of etiquette. "That’s perfectly true. But, as you said, there’s something queer here. We must investigate further.”

     Magruder had already realized that his mathematics was off kilter; he was thinking at high speed.
     Thagobar’s voice said: "According to our estimates, there are not that many habitable planets in the galaxy. How do you account, then, for your statement?”
     With a quick shift of viewpoint, Magruder thought of Mars, so many light-years away. There had been a scientific outpost on Mars for a long time, but it was a devil of a long way from being a habitable planet.
     "My people,” he said judiciously, "are capable of living on planets with surface conditions which vary widely from those of Earth.”
     Before Thagobar could ask anything else, another thought occurred to the Earthman. The thousand-inch telescope on Luna had discovered, spectroscopically, the existence of large planets in the Andromeda Nebula. "In addition," he continued blandly, "we have found planets in other galaxies than this.” There! That ought to confuse them!
     Again the sound was cut off, and Magruder could see the two aliens in hot discussion. When the sound came back again, Thagobar had sliifted to another tack.
     "How many spaceships do you have?”
     Magruder thought that one over for a long second. There were about a dozen interstellar ships in the Earth fleet—not nearly enough to colonize ten million planets. He was in a jam!
     No! Wait! A supply ship came to New Hawaii every six months. But there were no ships on New Hawaii.
     "Spaceships?” Magruder looked innocent. "Why, we have no spaceships.”

     Thagobar Verf shut off the sound again, and this time, he made the wall opaque, too. "No spaceships? No spaceships? He lied … I hope?”
     Zandoplith shook his head dolefully. "Absolute truth.”
"But … but … but—"      "Remember what he said his race called themselves?” the psychologist asked softly.
     Thagobar blinked very slowly. When he spoke, his voice was a hoarse whisper. "Beings with minds of vast power.” (which by accident is the closest alien translation of the phrase "homo sapiens")
     "Exactly,” said Zandoplith.

     Magruder sat in the interrogation chamber for a long time without hearing or seeing a thing. Had they made sense out of his statements? Were they beginning to realize what he was doing? He wanted to chew his nails, bite his lips, and tear his hair; instead, he forced himself to outward calm. There was a long way to go yet.
     When the wall suddenly became transparent once more, he managed to keep from jumping.
     "Is it true,” asked Thagobar, "that your race has the ability to move through space by means of mental power alone?”
     For a moment, Magruder was stunned. It was beyond his wildest expectations. But he rallied quickly.
     How does a man walk? he thought.
     "It is true that by using mental forces to control physical energy,” he said carefully, "we are able to move from place to place without the aid of spaceships or other such machines.”
     Immediately, the wall blanked again.

     Thagobar turned around slowly and looked at Zandoplith. Zandoplith’s face looked a dirty crimson; the healthy violet had faded.
     "I guess you’d best call in the officers,” he said slowly; "we’ve got a monster on our hands.”
     It took three minutes for the twenty officers of the huge Verf to assemble in the Psychology Room. When they arrived, Thagobar asked them to relax and then outlined the situation.
     "Now,” he said, "are there any suggestions?”
     They were definitely not relaxed now. They looked as tense as bowstrings.
     Lieutenant Pelquesh was the first to speak. "What are the General Orders, Your Splendor?”
     "The General Orders,” Thagobar said, "are that we are to protect out ship and our race, if necessary. The methods for doing so arc left up to the commander’s discretion.”
     There was a rather awkward silence. Then a light seemed to come over Lieutenant Pelquesh’s face. "Your Splendor, we could simply drop an annihilation bomb on the planet.”
     Thagobar shook his head. "I’ve already thought of that. If they can move themselves through space by means of thought alone, they w'ould escape, and their race would surely take vengeance for the vaporization of one of their planets.”
     Gloom descended.
     "Wait a minute,” said Pelquesh. "If he can do that, why hasn’t he escaped from us?

     Magruder watched the wall become transparent. The room was filled with aliens now. The big cheese, Thagobar, was at the pickup.
     "We are curious,” he said, "to know why, if you can go anywhere at will, you have stayed here. Why don’t you escape?”
     More fast thinking. "It is not polite,” Magruder said, "for a guest to leave his host until the business at hand is finished.”
     "Even after we … ah … disciplined you?”
     "Small discomforts can be overlooked, especially when the host is acting in abysmal ignorance.”
     There was a whispered question from one of Thagobar’s underlings and a smattering of discussion, and then:
     "Are we to presume, then, that you bear us no ill will?”
     "Some,” admitted Margruder candidly. "It is only because of your presumptuous behavior toward me, however, that I personally, am piqued. I can assure you that my race as a whole bears no ill will whatever towards your race as a whole or any member of it.”
     Play it big, Magruder, he told himself. You’ve got ’em rocking— I hope.
     More discussion on the other side of the wall.
     "You say,” said Thagobar, "that your race holds no ill will towards us; how do you know?”
     "I can say this,” Magruder told him; "I know—beyond any shadow of a doubt—exactly what every person of my race thinks of you at this very moment. (he knows that every human thinks nothing of the Dal, since nobody but Magruder has ever met the Dal)
     "In addition, let me point out that I have not been harmed as yet; they would have no reason to be angry. After all, you haven’t been destroyed yet.”
     Off went the sound. More heated discussion. On went the sound.
     "It has been suggested,” said Thagobar, "that, in spite of appearances, it was intended that we pick you, and you alone, as a specimen. It is suggested that you were sent to meet us.”
     Oh, brother! This one would have to be handled with very plush gloves.
     "I am but a very humble member of my race,” Magruder said as a prelude—mostly to gain time. But wait! He was an extraterrestrial biologist, wasn’t he? "However,” he continued with dignity, "my profession is that of meeting alien beings. I was, I must admit, appointed to the job.”
     Thagobar seemed to grow tenser. "That, in turn, suggests that you knew we were coming.”
     Magruder thought for a second. It had been predicted for centuries that mankind would eventually meet an intelligent alien race.
     "We have known you were com* ing for a long time,” he said quite calmly.
     Thagobar was visibly agitated now. "In that case, you must know where our race is located in the galaxy; you must know where our home base is.”
     Another tough one. Magruder looked through the wall at Thagobar and his men standing nervously on the other side of it. "I know where you are,” he said, "and I know exactly where every one of your fellows is.”
     There was sudden consternation on the other side of the wall, but Thagobar held his ground.
     "What is our location then?”

     For a second, Magruder thought they’d pulled the rug out from under him at last. And then he saw that there was a perfect explanation. He’d been thinking of dodging so long that he almost hadn’t seen the honest answer.
     He looked at Thagobar pityingly. "Communication by voice is so inadequate. Our co-ordinate system would be completely unintelligible to you, and you did not teach me yours, if you will recall.” Which was perfectly true; the Dal would have been foolish to teach their co-ordinate system to a specimen—the clues might have led to their home base. Besides, General Orders forbade it.

     More conversation on the other side.
     Thagobar again: "If you are in telepathic communication with your fellows, can you read our minds?”
     Magruder looked at him superciliously. "I have principles, as does my race; we do not enter any mind uninvited.”
     "Do the rest of your people know the location of our bases, then?” Thagobar asked plaintively.
     Magruder’s voice was placid. "I assure you, Thagobar Verf, that everyone of my people, on every planet belonging to our race, knows as much about your home base and its location as I do.” (which is zero)
     Magruder was beginning to get tired of the on-and-off sound system, but he resigned himself to wait while the aliens argued among themselves.
     "It has been pointed out,” Thagobar said, after a few minutes, "that it is very odd that your race has never contacted us before. Ours is a very old and powerful race, and we have taken planets throughout a full half of the galaxy, and yet, your race has never been seen nor heard of before.”
     "We have a policy,” said Magruder, "of not disclosing our presence to another race until it is to our advantage to do so. Besides, we have no quarrel with your race, and we have never had any desire to take your homes away from you. Only if a race becomes foolishly and insanely belligerent do we trouble ourselves to show them our power.”
     It was a long speech—maybe too long. Had he stuck strictly to the truth? A glance at Zandoplith told him; the chief psychologist had kept his beady black eyes on tire needle all through the long proceedings, and kept looking more and more worried as the instrument indicated a steady flow of truth.
     Thagobar looked positively apprehensive. As Magruder had become accustomed to the aliens, it had become more and more automatic to read their expressions. After all, he held one great advantage: they had made the mistake of teaching him their language. He knew them, and they didn’t know him.
     Thagobar said: "Other races, then, have been … uh … punished by yours?"
     "Not in my lifetime,” Magruder told him. He thought of homo neanderthalensis and said: "There was a race, before my time, which defied us. It no longer exists.”
     "Not in your lifetime? How old are you?”
     "Look into your magniscreen at the planet below,” said the Earthman in a solemn tone. "When I was born, not a single one of the plants you see existed on Earth. The continents of Earth were nothing like that; the seas were entirely different. (remember the aliens are under the misaprehension that the planet below is Earth, when it is actually New Hawaii)
     "The Earth on which I was born had extensive ice caps; look below you and you will see none. And yet, we have done notliing to change the planet you see; any changes that have taken place have come by the long process of geologic evolution.”
     "Gleek!” It was a queer sound that came from Thagobar’s throat just before a switch cut off the wall and the sound again.

(ed note: The aliens finally crack, and surrender to Macgruder)

From THE BEST POLICY by Randall Garrett (1957)

The whole thing was connected, of course, with their top-secret psionic machines. There was one of those—a supposedly very advanced type of mind-reader, as a matter of fact—about which she could get detailed first-hand information without going farther than the Bank of Rienne. And she might learn something from that which would fill in the picture for her.

The machine was used by Transcluster Finance, the giant central bank which regulated the activities of major financial houses on more than half the Federation’s worlds, and wielded more actual power than any dozen planetary governments. In the field of financial ethics, Transcluster made and enforced its own laws. Huge sums of money were frequently at stake in disputes among its associates, and machines of presumably more than human incorruptibility and accuracy were therefore employed to help settle conflicting charges and claims.

Two members of the Bank of Rienne’s legal staff who specialized in ethics hearings were pleased to learn of Telzey’s scholarly interest in their subject. They explained the proceedings in which the psionic Verifier was involved at considerable length. In operation, the giant telepath could draw any information pertinent to a hearing from a human mind within minutes. A participant who wished to submit his statements to verification was left alone in a heavily shielded chamber. He sensed nothing, but his mind became for a time a part of the machine’s circuits. He was then released from the chamber, and the Verifier reported what it had found to the adjudicators of the hearing. The report was accepted as absolute evidence; it could not be questioned.

Rienne’s attorneys felt that the introduction of psionic verification had in fact brought about a noticeable improvement in ethical standards throughout Transcluster’s vast finance web. Of course it was possible to circumvent the machines. No one was obliged to make use of them; and in most cases, they were instructed to investigate only specific details of thought and memory indicated to them to confirm a particular claim. This sometimes resulted in a hearing decision going to the side which most skillfully presented the evidence in its favor for verification, rather than to the one which happened to be in the right. A Verifier was, after all, a machine and ignored whatever was not covered by its instructions, even when the mind it was scanning contained additional information with a direct and obvious bearing on the case. This had been so invariably demonstrated in practice that no reasonable person could retain the slightest qualms on the point. To further reassure those who might otherwise hesitate to permit a mind-reading machine to come into contact with them, all records of a hearing were erased from the Verifier’s memory as soon as the case was closed.

And that, Telzey thought, did in a way fill in the picture. There was no evidence that Transcluster’s Verifiers operated in the way they were assumed to be operating—except that for fifteen years, through innumerable hearings, they had consistently presented the appearance of being able to operate in no other manner. But the descriptions she’d been given indicated they were vaster and presumably far more complex instruments than the Customs machine at the Orado City space terminal; and from that machine—supposedly no telepath at all—an imperceptible psionic finger had flicked out, as she passed, to plant a knot of compulsive suggestions in her mind.

So what were the Verifiers doing?

From UNDERCURRENTS by James Schmitz (1964)

(ed note: Bigoted old bitty Mrs. Donahue wants to stir up trouble for the owner of the Star Beast, so she is lying her ass off telling falsehoods in court.)

     "Mrs. Donahue, tell us what happened."
     She sniffed. " Well! I was lying down, trying to snatch a few minutes rest; I have so many responsibilities, clubs and charitable committees and things.
     Greenberg was watching the truth meter over her head. The needle wobble restlessly, but did not kick over into the red enough to set off the warning buzzer.
     "When suddenly I was overcome with a nameless dread."
     The needle swung far into the red, a ruby light flashed and the buzzer gave out a loud rude noise. Somebody started to giggle. Greenberg said hastily, "Order in the court."

From THE STAR BEAST by Robert Heinlein (1954)

      Kelly stopped at a plain gray door, rapped once, then took Holden inside a small compartment with a table and two uncomfortable-looking chairs. A dark-haired man was setting up a recorder. He waved one hand vaguely in the direction of a chair. Holden sat. The chair was even less comfortable than it looked.
     “You can go, Mr. Kelly," the man Holden assumed was Lopez said. Kelly left and closed the door.
     When Lopez had finished, he sat down across the table from Holden and reached out one hand. Holden shook it.
     “I’m Lieutenant Lopez. Kelly probably told you that. I work for naval intelligence, which he almost certainly didn’t tell you. My job isn’t secret, but they train jarheads to be tight-lipped."

     Lopez reached into his pocket, took out a small packet of white lozenges, and popped one into his mouth. He didn't offer one to Holden. Lopez's pupils contracted to tiny points as he sucked the lozenge. Focus drugs. He’d be watching every tic of Holden's face during questioning. Tough to lie to.

     “First Lieutenant James R. Holden, of Montana," he said. It wasn’t a question.
     “Yes, sir," Holden said anyway.
     “Seven years in the UNN, last posting on the destroyer Zhang Fei."
     “That’s me."
     “Your file says you were busted out for assaulting a superior officer," Lopez said. “That’s pretty cliché, Holden. You punched the old man? Seriously?"
     “No. I missed. Broke my hand on a bulkhead."
     “How’d that happen?"
     “He was quicker than I expected," Holden replied.
     “Why'd you try?"
     “I was projecting my self-loathing onto him. It’s just a stroke of luck that I actually wound up hurting the right person," Holden said.

     “Sounds like you've thought about it some since then," Lopez said, his pinprick pupils never moving from Holden's face. “Therapy?”
     “Lots of time to think on the Canterbury," Holden replied.
     Lopez ignored the obvious opening and said, “What did you come up with, during all that thinking?"
     “The Coalition has been stepping on the necks of the people out here for over a hundred years now. I didn’t like being the boot."
     “An OPA sympathizer, then?" Lopez said, his expression not changing at all.
     “No. I didn’t switch sides. I stopped playing. I didn't renounce my citizenship. I like Montana. I’m out here because I like flying, and only a Belter rust trap like the Canterbury will hire me."
     Lopez smiled for the first time. “You’re an exceedingly honest man, Mr. Holden."

     “Why did you claim that a Martian military vessel destroyed your ship? "
     “I didn’t. I explained all that in the broadcast. It had technology only available to inner planet fleets, and I found a piece of MCRN hardware in the device that tricked us into stopping."
     “We’ll want to see that."
     “You’re welcome to it."
     “Your file says you were the only child of a family co-op," Lopez said, acting as though they’d never stopped talking about Holden’s past.
     “Yes, five fathers, three mothers."
     “So many parents for only one child," Lopez said, slowly unwrapping another lozenge. The Martians had lots of space for traditional families.
     “The tax break for eight adults only having one child allowed them to own twenty-two acres of decent farmland. There are over thirty billion people on Earth. Twenty-two acres is a national park," Holden said. “Also, the DNA mix is legit. They aren’t parents in name only."
     “How did they decide who carried you? "
     “Mother Elise had the widest hips."

     Lopez popped the second lozenge into his mouth and sucked on it a few moments. Before he could speak again, the deck shook. The video recorder jiggled on its arm.
     “Torpedo launches? " Holden said. “Guess those Belt ships didn’t change course."
     “Any thoughts about that, Mr. Holden? "
     “Just that you seem pretty willing to kill Belt ships."
     “You’ve put us in a position where we can’t afford to seem weak. After your accusations, there are a lot of people who don’t think much of us."
     Holden shrugged. If the man was watching for guilt or remorse from Holden, he was out of luck. The Belt ships had known what they were going toward. They hadn’t turned away. But still, something bothered him.
     “They might hate your living guts," Holden said. “But it’s hard to find enough suicidal people to crew six ships. Maybe they think they can outrun torpedoes."
     Lopez didn’t move, his whole body preternaturally still with the focus drugs pouring through him.
     “We—" Lopez began, and the general quarters Klaxon sounded. It was deafening in the small metal compartment.
     “Holy s**t, did they shoot back?" Holden asked.
     Lopez shook himself, like a man waking up from a daydream.

(The Expanse Executive producer Mark Fergus said: It’s a focus pill. It heightens the senses to the point of being able to hear your subject’s heart-beat and discern the micro-twitches in their face and eyes, indicating whether they are lying or telling the truth. The focus pill is lifted straight from the novel.)

From LEVIATHAN WAKES by "James S.A. Corey" (Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) 2011.
First novel of The Expanse

"I see." Djana sat a while longer, thinking her way forward. At last she looked up and said: "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: Trader Lathan Denvers is captured by General Bel Riose and put into a cell with another prisoner Ducem Barr the Siwennian patrician.)

      The trader thrust out a lower lip and nodded his head slowly. He slipped off the flat-linked bracelet that hugged his fight wrist and held it out. “What do you think of that?” He wore the mate to it on his left.
     The Siwennian took the ornament. He responded slowly to the trader’s gesture and put it on. The odd tingling at the wrist passed away quickly.
     Devers’ voice changed at once. “Right, doc, you’ve got the action now. Just speak casually. If this room is wired, they won’t get a thing. That’s a Field Distorter you’ve got there; genuine Mallow design. Sells for twenty-five credits on any world from here to the outer rim. You get it free. Hold your lips still when you talk and take it easy. You’ve got to get the trick of it.”…

     The general threw away his shredded, never-lit cigarette, lit another, and shrugged. “Well, it is beside the immediate point, this lack of first-class tech-men. Except that I might have made more progress with my prisoner were my Psychic Probe in proper order.”
     The secretary’s eyebrows lifted. “You have a Probe?”
     “An old one. A superannuated one which fails me the one time I needed it. I set it up during the prisoner’s sleep, and received nothing. So much for the Probe. I have tried it on my own men and the reaction is quite proper, but again there is not one among my staff of tech-men who can tell me why it fails upon the prisoner. Ducem Barr, who is a theoretician of parts, though no mechanic, says the psychic structure of the prisoner may be unaffected by the Probe since from childhood he has been subjected to alien environments and neural stimuli. I don’t know. But he may yet be useful. I save him in that hope.”

(ed note: of course the General's psychic probe is working properly, the Field Distorter prevents it from operating.)

     There was no answer. He continued, “And there will be more direct evidence. I have brought with me the Psychic Probe. It failed once before, but contact with the enemy is a liberal education.”
     His voice was smoothly threatening and Devers felt the gun thrust hard in his midriff — the general’s gun, hitherto in its holster.
     The general said quietly, “You will remove your wristband and any other metal ornament you wear and give them to me. Slowly! Atomic fields can be distorted, you see, and Psychic Probes might probe only into static. That’s right…I’ll take it.”
     Riose stepped behind his desk, with his blast-gun held ready. He said to Barr, “You too, patrician. Your wristband condemns you. You have been helpful earlier, however, and I am not vindictive, but I shall judge the fate of your behostaged family by the results of the Psychic Probe.”

From FOUNDATION AND EMPIRE by Isaac Asimov (1952)

"We'll get anything we want out of you," Conn told him. "You know what a mind-probe is? You should; your accomplices used one on my father's secretary. She's a hopeless imbecile now. You'll be, too, when we're through with you. But before then, you'll have given us everything you know."

Kelton began to protest. "Conn, you can't do a thing like that!"

"A mind-probe is utterly illegal; why, it's a capital offense!" Ledue exclaimed. "Conn I forbid you..."

"Judge, don't make me call those guards and have you removed," Conn said.

From JUNKYARD PLANET by H. Beam Piper (1963)

      "Have I asked whether or not you wanted it? As for the rest of you—we Klingons have a reputation for ruthlessness. You will find that it is deserved. Should one Klingon soldier be killed here, a thousand Organians will die. I will have order, is that clear?"
     "Commander," Ayelborne said, "I assure you we will cause you no trouble."
     "No. I am sure you will not. Baroner (Captain Kirk's cover identity), come with me."
     "What about Mr. Spock?"
     "Why are you concerned?"
     "He's my friend."
     "You have poor taste in friends. He will be examined. If he is lying, he will die. If he is telling the truth, well, he will find that business has taken a turn for the worse. Guards, remove him."
     The guards, covering Spock with their weapons, gestured him out the door; Spock went meekly.

     Kor only grinned. At the same time, the door opened and Spock was thrust inside, followed by a Klingon lieutenant. To Kirk's enormous relief, his first officer looked perfectly normal.
     "Well, lieutenant?"
     "He is what he claims to be, Commander," the lieutenant said. "A Vulcan trader named Spock. And he really is trading in the other kind of trillium, the vegetable kind; it seems it has value here."
     "Nothing else?"
     "The usual apprehension. His main concern seems to be how he will carry on his business under our occupation. His mind is so undisciplined that he could hold nothing back."
     "All right. Baroner, would you like to try our little truth-finder?"
     "I don't even understand it."
     "It's a mind-sifter," Kor said, "or a mind-ripper, depending on how much force is used. If necessary, we can empty a man's mind as if opening a spigot. Of course, what's left is more vegetable than human."
     "You're proud of it?" Kirk said.
     "All war weapons are unpleasant," Kor said. "Otherwise they would be useless."
     "Mr. Spock, are you sure you're all right?"
     "Perfectly, Baroner. However, it was a remarkable sensation."

     Once in the street, Kirk glanced about quickly. Nobody was within earshot, or seemed to be following them. He said quietly to Spock:"That mind-sifter of theirs must not be quite the terror they think it is."
     "I advise you not to underestimate it, Captain," Spock said. "I was able to resist it, partly with a little Vulcan discipline, partly by misdirection. But on the next higher setting, I am sure I would have been unable to protect myself."
     "And I wouldn't last even that long."

From ERRAND OF MERCY by James Blish (1968)
novalization of the Star Trek TV episode

Unconsciously her hand strayed to the dollar-sized shaved spot on her skull, where she’d been braindipped. The hair was starting to grow back, and it itched. They had told her that removing the tiny sample of cortical tissue for chemical monitoring during questioning—a they took less than a cubic millimeter—couldn’t possibly harm her. She’d hardly felt the prick of the dialytrode needle as it penetrated her scalp. But all the same, she hadn’t felt the same since her arrest. It was more than a little scary to be locked up in a tiny room for a week while those dreadful men shouted at you and asked you questions and made all sorts of terrible accusations just to see how you’d react. They’d even told her that Dr. Ruiz had confessed that she had helped him sell information about the Cygnus Object to the Chinese! She knew that couldn’t be true. And then, when they couldn’t shake her, all the questions about who she’d talked to since the sighting. All of them had been checked out, including her ailing grandmother on Earth. Finally, when they were grudgingly satisfied, all the warnings—threats, really—about not discussing her work with anybody—not even her coworkers at Farside. She hadn’t been allowed her six-month Earth furlough, and even a pass to Mare Imbrium was hardly worth it any more, with the government hassle.

From THE JUPITER THEFT by Donald Moffitt (1977)

(ed note: Prince Zarth Arn of the Mid-Galactic Empire lives two hundred thousand years in the future. He gets bored, and uses a device of his own invention to temporarily trade bodies with John Gordon of 1945. Gordon has fun in the far future, pretending to be Prince Arn. Unfortunatly he is captured by the dastardly Shorr Kan, who wants to rule the galaxy. Kan needs Prince Arn's secret of the ultimate weapon — the Distruptor. Since the real Prince is 200,000 years in the past the joke is on Kan.)

      Shorr Kan dismissed Durk Undis and the guards, and quickly greeted Gordon.
     “You've slept, rested? That's good. Now tell me what you've decided.”
     Gordon shrugged. “There was no decision to make. I can't give you the secret of the Disruptor.”
     Shorr Kan's strong face changed slightly in expression, and he spoke after a pause.
     “I see. I might have expected it. Old mental habits, old traditions—even intelligence can't conquer them, sometimes.”

     His eyes narrowed slightly. “Now listen, Zarth. I told you yesterday that was an unpleasant alternative if you refused. I didn't go into details because I wanted to gain your willing cooperation.
     “But now you force me to be explicit. So let me assure you first of one thing. I am going to have the Disruptor secret from you, whether you give it willingly or not.”
     “Torture, then?” sneered Gordon. “That is what I expected.”
     Shorr Kan made a disgusted gesture. “Faugh, I don't use torture. It's clumsy and undependable, and alienates even your own followers. No, I have quite another method in mind.”

     He gestured to the older of the two nervous-looking men nearby. “Land Allar there, is one of our finest psycho-scientists. Some years ago he devised a certain apparatus which I've been forced to utilize several times.
     “It's a brain-scanner. It literally reads the brain, by scanning the neurones, plotting the synaptic connections, and translating that physical set-up into the knowledge, memories and information possessed by that particular brain. With it, before this night is over, I can have the Disruptor secret right out of your brain.”
     “That,” said John Gordon steadily, “is a rather unclever bluff.”
     Shorr Kan shook his dark head. “I assure you it is not. I can prove it to you it you want me to. Otherwise, you must take my word that the scanner will take everything from your brain.”
     He went on, “The trouble is that the impact of the scanning rays on the brain for hour after hour in time breaks down the synaptic connections it scans. The subject emerges from the process a mindless idiot. That is what will happen to you if we use it on you.”

     The hair bristled on Gordon's neck. He had not a doubt now that Shorr Kan was speaking the truth. If nothing else, the pale, sick faces of the two scientists proved his assertion.
     Weird, fantastic, nightmarishly horrible—yet wholly possible to this latter-day science. An instrument that mechanically read the mind, and in reading wrecked it.
     “I don't want to use it on you, I repeated.
     Shorr Kan was saying earnestly. “For as I told you, you'd be extremely valuable to me as a puppet emperor after the galaxy is conquered. But if you persist in refusing to tell that secret, I simply have no choice.”
     John Gordon felt an insane desire to laugh. This was all too ironic.
     “You've got everything so nicely calculated,” he: told Shorr Kan. “But again, you find yourself defeated by pure chance.”
     “Just what do you mean?” asked the League ruler, with dangerous softness.
     I mean that I can't tell you the secret of the Disruptor because I don't know it.”
     Shorr Kan looked impatient. “That is a rather childish evasion. Everyone knows that as son of the emperor you would be told all about the Disruptor.”
     Gordon nodded. “Quite true. But I happen not to be the emperor's son. I'm a different man entirely.”
     Shorr Kan shrugged. “We are gaining nothing by all this. Go ahead.”

     The last words were addressed to the two scientists. At that moment Gordon savagely leaped for Shorr Kan's throat!
     He never reached it. One of the scientists had a glass paralyzer ready, and swiftly jabbed it at the back of his neck.
     Gordon sank, shocked and stunned. Only dimly, he felt them lifting him onto the metal table. Through his dimming vision, Shorr Kan's hard face and cool black eyes looked down.
     “Your last chance, Zarth. Make but a signal and you can still avoid this fate.”
     Gordon felt the hopelessness of it all, even as his raging anger made him glare up at the League commander.
     The paralyzer touched him again. This shock was like a physical blow. He just sensed the two scientists busy with the massive metal cone above his head, and then darkness claimed him.

     GORDON came slowly to awareness of a throbbing headache. All the devil's trip-hammers seemed to be pounding inside his skull, and he felt a sickening nausea.
     A cool glass was held to his lips, and a voice spoke insistently in his ear.
     “Drink this.”
     Gordon managed to gulp down a pungent liquid. Presently his nausea lessened and his head began to ache less violently.

     He lay for a little time before he finally ventured to open his eyes. He still lay on the table, but the metal cone and the complicated apparatus were not now in sight.
     Over him was bending the anxious face of one of the two Cloud scientists. Then the strong features and brilliant black eyes of Shorr Kan came down in his field of vision.
     “Can you sit up?” asked the scientist. “It will help you recover faster.”
     The man's arm around his shoulders enabled Gordon weakly to slide off the table and into a chair.
     Shorr Kan came and stood in front of him, looking down at him with a queer wonder and interest in his expression.
     He asked, “How do you feel now, John Gordon?”
     Gordon started. He stared back up at the League commander.
     “Then you know?” he husked.
     “Why else do you think we halted the brain-scanning?” Shorr Kan retorted. “If it weren't for that, you'd be a complete mental wreck by now.”

From THE STAR KINGS by Edmond Hamilton (1949)

      "Somehow we've got to make the prisoners talk. The question is—how? If they talk they're dead before we can extract any information. Tests suggest that if we remove the device embedded in their skulls they will also die—what the hell can we do?"
     Keisler's brow creased in broken lines. "Seems as if—no, wait a minute—what was the name—Polter?—Pollard?" He pressed a section of his desk. "Hello, get me the Encyc department—yes, right, call me back."
     He lit a cigar and puffed until a section of the desk lit redly. "Hello, is that—oh, it is you, Leparn; good. Listen this one is just up your street. I am trying to trace the American scientist who perfected the electronic-interrogator. Date of birth would be pre-machine and around 2010. I think the name was Polling but I'm not sure."
     Leparn made vague tongue-clicking noises, then he said: "Pollard, I think—no, certain, Andrew Pollard. Give me ten minutes to do some digging; I think we have a complete biography somewhere."
     He called back in seven minutes. "We have it, a complete biography plus blueprints and specifications—'

     Keisler said: "Perfect, thank you." He turned to Osterly. "Our friends are going to talk without saying a word."
     "I don't follow you."
     "Then, my friend, you must listen. Around two thousand and forty a U.S. electronic genius perfected a device called the electronic interrogator. This piece of machinery was, in truth, a lie-detector which went far beyond anything conceived or constructed on these lines before. To put it briefly, It did not need a verbal answer but was capable of interpreting emotional reactions. Therefore, all that was required was the suspect to be linked with the machine and asked questions. It made no difference whether the questions were answered or ignored, the emotional responses were the same and the machine recorded them. After the interrogation the tape was removed and inserted into a G-type police computer which was capable of interpreting the session."

     "Let me give you an example; let us assume the suspect guilty of murder. The question, therefore, might be, 'Did you kill John Smith?" Whether the suspect answered that question or not is immaterial; the point is, when he heard it, his emotional responses would be the same and the machine would pick them up."
     "Again, with careful and prolonged questioning, not only the exact date and time could be arrived at but the method employed. It meant of course, long and precise interrogation with prepared questions but the results were exact."
     "Once more to quote an example, the questions might be: 'Did you strangle him, shoot him, stab him, poison him, etc.? Was it in the morning, afternoon, evening? Did you kill him for gain, for revenge, jealousy, or acting on instructions?"
     "When the recorded tape gets to the computer, all the negative answers are already deleted so we'd get something like this." Keisler drew a note pad towards him and began to write. After a minute or so he pushed it across the desk."
     Osterly turned it around and read it.

     Question: Did you kill John Smith?
     Answer: Yes.

     Question: By what method?
     Answer: Strangulation.

     Question: When?
     Answer: Saturday evening, May 10th.

     Question: Why?
     Answer: Jealousy.

     Osterly returned the pad to the desk with a hand that shook slightly. "My God, if this works we've got 'em; they'll sing a beautiful song without knowing it. We can find out if they're human or not, where they come from, what they intend to do."
     "Don't jump ahead of yourself," said Keisler, quickly. "To arrive at precise questions like that would take about ten hours solid interrogation with prepared questions."
     "Could you build the interrogator?"
     "We have the specifications; I've no doubt the techs could put one together in a day or so."

     One of the screens lit and a voice said: "Interrogation completed, sir. About to feed data to the computers."
     "Hold it until I get there." He punched a stud. "Brogue, come up here and take over. Call me if anything breaks."
     By the time he arrived in the computer section they had fed in the data, but they waited until the door closed behind Osterly before they pressed the activating stud.
     There was a purring sound; the squat bulk of the old-fashioned computer made muffled chuckling sounds and began to exhale typed paper.

     Question: What is your name?
     Answer: Marley.

     Question: Why do you call yourself Royce?
     Answer: I changed my name to conceal my identity.

     Osterly wondered briefly just how many questions had been asked to arrive at the two simple answers.

     Question: Why did you wish to conceal your identity?
     Answer: It was a prepared policy.

     Question: Did all the Immunes adopt it?
     Answer: Yes.

     Question: How old are you?
     Answer: Two hundred and eighteen.

     Question: How old do you hope to be?
     Answer: Around three thousand.

     Question: How did this come about?
     Answer: I underwent special treatment.

     Question: Who performed this treatment?
     Answer: Some doctors—I do not know their names.

     Question: Are you human?
     Answer: Yes, I am human, a superior human.

     Question: Are all Immunes superior humans?
     Answer: Yes.

     Question: The Immunes are also an organization?
     Answer: Yes.

     Question: For world domination?
     Answer: They have world domination.

     Question: You have a government?
     Answer: A directorate.

     Question: With a leader?
     Answer: Yes.

     Question: What is his name?
     Answer: He is anonymous—we are all anonymous.

     Question : Is there anyone above the leader?
     Answer: Yes, the Supreme.

     Question: This is another Immune?
     Answer: I do not know—I do not think so.

     Question: It is human?
     Answer: I do not know—I do not think so.

     Question: It is alien?
     Answer: I do not know.

     Question: Can you describe it?
     Answer: No, I have never seen it.

     Question: What does it do?
     Answer: It is the source of power.

     Suddenly the paper stopped with a few printed words: Data concluded; negative responses three thousand, five hundred and seventy-five.
     "My God!" said someone in a shocked voice. "No wonder they took so damn long."

     Osterly, however, was more concerned with the answers and they made him sweat. The Immunes were an organization—numbers unknown—of supermen. An organization which had got the world under its thumb and virtually imprisoned almost without effort. This same organization was now rapidly reducing the population with the same cynical lack of effort—peddling dream-machines and callously manipulating the frightened and hard-pressed survivors. The Immies could afford to take their time, they were, by normal standards, virtually immortal.
     What worried Osterly was the unknown—who, or what, was the Supreme? Clearly there was no religious significance; the Supreme, therefore, was what?
     He suppressed a shudder—something distinctly unpleasant Something which had given a group of normal people powers above the norm. An entity which had taught them advanced surgery, handed them—presumably in return for something—incredible strength and near immortality. And, as if these weren't enough, provided them with the most diabolical method of conquest it was possible to conceive.
     Presumably the application of this same weapon had its source there also—the dream-machine was nothing more than a home self-destruction unit.

     He paused in his thoughts, frowning, vague understanding filtering slowly through his mind. There was no perfect weapon, no weapon yet devised which could not be turned against its creator. That was why the Immies wanted to get rid of the Susceptible/resistants as quickly as possible. Maybe they had been useful in the early days as objects of study but now they were a menace; better get rid of them before they learned too much.
     Gilliad already had; he had demonstrated successfully that the cutting sword had two edges. If he ever got around to wielding it with skill—God, they couldn't afford to let him— could they?—nor could the Supreme, whatever it was.

     He crossed the room and made a brief call. "Room six? Change the questioning; drop the personal; concentrate on priorities. I want an exact or approximate figure of living Immunes and I want every scrap of data available on the Supreme: whereabouts, nature, origin, everything. Pass that on to the Interrogation room and let them draw up a new set of questions. This is an emergency, so press it hard."

From REALITY FORBIDDEN by Philip E. High (1967)


You Must Conform

In most societies, citizens must conform to the laws under pain of legal punishment or deportation. In more repressive societies, citizens must conform to societal norms or be punished. In some hyper-controlled societies, some people may be ineligible for citizenship because of what they are, or if they suffer from certain disabilities.

Detecting Deviants

Tests for mobility or sensory disabilites is comonplace nowadays. But things go all science fictional if there exist handwaving future tech that can detect mental or psychological "disabilities." Imagine being denied citizenship in Futuropia because the brain scanner said you were an 80-percentile serial killer? Or psychopath? Or sociopath? Or internet troll? Or neophobe?

In David Brin's Sundiver, a simple brain test detects sociopathic personalities whose motivation is to harm others. They are labeled "Probationers", and have the equivalent of an ankle bracelet surgically implanted in their buttocks. The police monitor their whereabouts, and there are certain regions they are forbidden to enter. There was no treatment that would "cure" the personality.

In the short-lived TV show "Prey", genetic testing can detect serial killers. Only as it turns out, they are not sociopathic people. Instead they are a new species, with the motive to eliminate Homo Sapiens the same way we eliminiated Neanderthals.

Foxes Guarding the Henhouse

In my own musings, I note that there is a truism that sociopathic personalities seem to thrive in corporate and political environments (or other strongly hierarchical organizations). They tend to rise to the highest levels of power. This may be due to the innate advantage of being free to treat human beings as fungible (or disposable) goods by virtue of having zero empathy. Or simply because nice guys finish last. For example: corporation can rapidly achieve the goal of maximizing shareholder value if corporate policy doesn't give a rat's heinie how many people it harms (or kills).

So what if somebody invents some kind of medical scan that can rate a person's level of sociopathic personality?

My thought-experiment is that the masses of people being harmed by sociopathically led corporations and government will want all the leaders to be immediately tested, and removed from power if they score too high.

However, since all the people in power tend to be sociopaths, they will panic and do their darnedest to outlaw the scanning technology. To prevent it from blowing their cover.

Taking it a step further in the dystopian direction, corporations will want to covertly use sociopath scans in their hiring department. Because for them sociopathic employees are an asset, good for the bottom line.

This does suggest an amusing science fictional example of Let The Punishment Fit The Crime.

I also muse about a brain scan to detect neophobes. Since it appears that much of what is wrong with the world nowadays is such people being driven to a psychotic break due to the unstoppable pace of change. Such a scan seems more plausible because there is actual evidence that neophobia is caused by an over-developed amygdala leading to optimizing for surviving an unsafe environment. It would be nice to be able to diagnose the ailment so the people suffering from it can be treated. Before something solves the problem in a less elegant fashion.

Indoctrinating Conformity

In other science fiction, brainwashing technology is advanced enough so that people with deviant personalities can be quote "cured" unquote (i.e., mind controlled with the aim of ensuring everybody is a good little well-behaved citizen). This "citizen indoctrination" process is generally performed when a person is still a child.

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 Harry Harrison's I Always Do What Teddy Says, all children are given little computerized teddy-bears. These speak to the children and respond to the child's actions and words. They skillfully mold the child's personality to be a good citizen. Among other thing they ensure the people grow up incapable of killing another person.

In Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, children undergo hypnopædia sleep-learning via speakers inside bed pillows. This is used to indoctrinate them into their pre-determined caste in society.

In Philip E. High's The Time Mercenaries, a close brush with global thermonuclear war causes Terra to genetically engineer everybody to be natural pacifists incapable of violence. Which proves to be a problem when the alien invasion occurs, the engineering also renders them incapable of defending themselves.

In John Dalmas' The Regiment, a close brush with global thermonuclear war has a related effect. They figure the problem is runaway technological advance. So they create "the sacrament", which brainwashes people into being neophobes terrified of technological progress.

Exiling Non-conformists

In some scifi novels, non-conformist are deported from the country. As a side note, if deportation presents a problem of no other nation willing to accept your deports, you may have to set up an internal "reservation" or "Coventry" to house these undesirables.

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 them self. If you are unwilling to be an integrated member of society, then you are stripped of the benefits of said society. Society does not mandate brainwashing, they still have that much respect for the rights of an individual. The choice is up to the convict.

Brainwashing Non-conformists

In the more mild versions, people are not automatically indoctrinated from birth. The judicial system waits until you have been convicted of a non-conformity type crime. Then they brainwash you, attempting to "cure" you of criminal behavior.

The Tom Corbett Space Cadet book ON THE TRAIL OF THE SPACE PIRATES has much the same system as Heinlein. Convicted criminals who refuse brainwashing are held on the Prison Asteroid, surrounded by hordes of prison guards and patrolling police rocket ships. The asteroid dwellers can opt for psychotherapeutic readjustment 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. Even though Mudd is a prime example proving said therapy does not work on certain individuals.

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 Philip E. High's The Prodigal Sun the police state apprehends malcontents. They are then summarily brainwashed to make them into cooperative little boot-licking members of society. This also uses aversion therapy. If the brainwashed person even thinks about violating societal norms they experience a sudden attack of excruciating pain. It doesn't take long for this to turn the brainwashed into little robots. Each one is given a little booklet with all the forbidden thoughts, booklet is officially called "Programme" or unofficially called "the bible of the damned". The first page helpfully notes that if the brainwashed person is striken by pain, they should refer to the book to figure out what forbidden thought triggered the attack.

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 ("mindwipe") 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 Elizabeth Moon's Engaging The Enemy the planet Sallyon uses the same method as in Babylon 5, only they call it "personality restructuring". The convicted has a choice of being put to death or having their personality erased and replaced by a docile one with an inclination to public service. Since this also lowers their IQ to the point that they are incapable of taking care of themselves, a caretaker must be found.


      All over the town, green and white metallic signs, like the one at the border, heralded the coming change. But one, near the highway, had been defaced with black spray paint. Before it passed out of sight, Jacob caught a glimpse of the raggedly written words “Occupation” and “Invasion.”
     A Permanent Probationer (P.P.) did that, he thought. A Citizen wasn’t likely to do anything so kinky, with hundreds of legal ways to express his opinion. And a Temporary Probie, sentenced to probation for a crime, wouldn’t want his sentence lengthened. A Temporary would recognize the certainty of being caught.
     No doubt some poor Permanent, facing eviction, had vented his feelings, not caring about the consequences. Jacob sympathized. The P.P. was probably in custody by now.

     Although he wasn’t particularly interested in politics, Jacob came from a political family. Two of his grandparents had been heroes in the Overturn, when a loose network of technocrats had succeeded in bringing the Oligarchy tumbling down. The family policy toward Probation Laws was one of vehement opposition.
     Uncle Jeremey was telling about how the Oligarchy decreed that everyone alive would be tested for “violent tendencies” and that all who failed would from then on be under constant surveillance — Probation.
     “… They went to great efforts to convince the populace,” Jeremey said in a low rumbling voice, “that the laws and quarantines would cut down on crime. And they did have that effect. Individuals with radio transmitters in their rumps often think twice about causing trouble to their neighbors.
     “Then, as now, Citizens loved the Probation Laws. They had no trouble forgetting the fact that they cut through every traditional Constitutional guarantee of due process. Most of them lived in countries that had never had such niceties anyway.
     “And when a fluke in those laws allowed Joseph Alvarez and his friends to turn the Oligarchs themselves out on their ears — well, the jubilant Citizens just loved Probation testing even more! It did leaders of the Overturn no good to push the issue at the time. They were having enough trouble setting up the Confederation…”

     In a wide swatch of barren ground that stretched from east to west, another line of barber poles ran, this one complete and operational. Colors had faded from many of the smooth posts. Dust coated the round lamps on top.
     The ubiquitous P-trackers acted here as a visible sieve, allowing Citizens to pass freely in and out of the E.T. Reserve but warning probationers to stay out, and aliens to stay within. It was a crude reminder of a fact that most people carefully ignored: that a large part of humanity wore imbedded transmitters because the larger part didn’t trust them. The majority didn’t want contact between extraterrestrials and those deemed “prone to violence” by a psychological test.

     “Are you aware what you’re saying, sir? A Citizen wouldn’t commit murder, simply out of dislike for an individual. Only a Probationary Personality could kill without dire cause. Can you think of any reason Mr. LaRoque might have had to do such a drastic thing?”
     “I don’t know,” Kepler shrugged. He peered at LaRoque. “A Citizen who feels justified in killing still feels remorse afterward. Mr. LaRoque doesn’t look like he regrets anything, so either he’s innocent, or a good actor… or he is a Probationer after all!”
     “In space!” Martine cried. “That’s impossible, Dwayne. And you know it. Every spaceport is loaded with P-receivers. And every ship is equipped with detectors also! Now you should apologize to Mr. LaRoque!”
     Kepler grinned.
     “Apologize? At the very least I know LaRoque lied about being ‘dizzy’ in the gravity loop. I sent a masergram to Earth. I wanted a dossier on him from his paper. They were only too happy to oblige.
     “It seems that Mr. LaRoque is a trained astronaut! He was separated from the Service for ‘medical reasons’ a phrase that’s often used when a person’s P-test scores rise to probation levels and he’s forced to give up a sensitive job!

     “Besides the normal run-of-the-mill psi detectors, such as they are, not much. A brain-wave device, an inertial movement sensor that’s probably useless in a time-suppression field, a tachistoscopic 3-D camera and projector…”
     “May I see that?”
     “Sure, it’s at the far end of the trunk.”
     Jacob reached in and removed the heavy machine. He laid it on the deck and examined the recording and projecting heads.
     “You know,” he said softly. “It’s just possible…”
     “What is?” Martine asked.
     Jacob looked up at her. “This, plus the retinal pattern reader we used on Mercury, could make a perfect mental proclivities tester.”
     “You mean one of those devices used to determine Probation status?”
     “Yes. If I had known this was available back at the base, we could have tested LaRoque then and there. We wouldn’t have had to maser Earth and go through layers of fallible bureaucracy for an answer that might have been tampered. We could track his violence index on the spot.”
     Martine sat still for a moment. Then she looked downward.
     “I don’t suppose it would have made any difference.”
     “But you were sure there was something wrong with the message from Earth,” Jacob said. “This could save LaRoque from two months in a brig if you were right.

     Jacob pressed against the rubber-rimmed eyepiece of the retinal scanner. Once again he saw the blue dot dance and shimmer alone in a black background. Now he tried not to focus on it, ignoring its tantalizing suggestion of communion, as he waited for the third tachistoscopic image.
     It flashed on suddenly, filling his entire field of view with a 3-D picture in dull sepia. The gestalt he got in that first, unfocused instant was of a pastoral scene. There was a woman in the foreground, buxom and well fed, her old-fashioned skirts flying as she ran.
     Dark, threatening clouds loomed on the horizon, above farm buildings set on a hill. There were people on the left… dancing? No, fighting. Soldiers, their faces excited and — afraid? The woman was grinning, no, grimacing in terror. She fled with arms over her head as two men in seventeenth-century body armor chased her, holding high matchlocks with bayonets sharp. Their…

     The scene blacked out and the blue dot was back. Jacob closed his eyes and pulled back from the eyepiece.
     “That’s it,” Dr. Martine said. She bent over a computer console nearby, next to Physician Peng. “We’ll have your score in a minute, Jacob.”
     “You’re sure you don’t need more? That was only three.” Actually, he was relieved.
     “No, we took five from Peter to have a double-check. You’re just a control. Why don’t you just sit down and relax now, while we finish up here.”
     Jacob walked over to one of the nearby lounge chairs, wiping his left cuff along his forehead to remove a thin sheen of perspiration. The test had been a thirty-second ordeal.
     The first image was a portrait of a man’s face, gnarled and lined with care, a story of a life-time that he had examined for two, maybe three seconds, before it disappeared again, as seared as any ephemera could be into his memory.
     The second had been a confusing jumble of abstract shapes, jutting and bumping in rapid disarray… somewhat like the maze of patterns around the rim of a suntorus but without the brilliance or overall consistency. The third had been the scene in sepia, apparently rendered from an old etching of the Thirty Years War.
     It was explicitly violent, Jacob recalled, just the sort of thing one would expect in a P-test.
     After the overly dramatic “parlor scene” downstairs, Jacob was reluctant to enter even a shallow trance to calm his nerves. And he found that he couldn’t relax without it. He rose and approached the console. Across the dome, near the stasis shell itself, LaRoque wandered idly as he waited, staring out at the long shadows and blistered rocks of Mercury’s North Pole.

     “May I see the raw data?” Jacob asked Martine.
     “Sure. Which one would you like to see?”
     “The last one.”
     Martine tapped on her keyboard. A sheet extruded from a slot beneath the screen. She tore it off and handed it to him.
     It was the “pastoral scene.” Of course now he recognized its true content, but the whole purpose of the earlier viewing was to trace his reactions to the image during the first few instants he saw it, before conscious consideration could come into play.
     Across the image a jagged line darted back and forth, up and down. At every vertex or resting point was a small number. The line showed the path of his attention during that first quick glimpse, as detected by the Retinal Reader, watching the movements of his eye.
     The number one, and the beginning of the trace, was near the center. Up to number six the focus line just drifted. Then it stopped right over the generous cleavage presented by the running woman’s bosom. The number seven was circled there.
     There the numbers clustered, not only seven to sixteen, but thirty through thirty-five and eighty-two to eighty-six, as well.
     At twenty the numbers suddenly shifted from the woman’s feet to the clouds over the farmhouse. Then they moved quickly among the people and objects pictured, sometimes circled or squared to denote the level of dilation of the eye, depth of focus, and changes in his blood pressure as measured by the tiny veins in his retina. Apparently the modified Stanford-Purkinje eye scanner he had devised for this test, from Martine’s tachistoscope and other odds and ends, had worked.
     Jacob knew better than to be embarrassed or concerned by his reflex reaction to the pictured woman’s breast. If he’d been female his reaction would — statistically, at least — have likely been different, spending more time with the woman, overall, but concentrating more on hair, clothes, and face… all of it during the latency period, whole milliseconds before conscious awareness.
     What concerned him more was his reaction to the overall scene. Over to the left, near the fighting men, was a starred number. That represented the point at which he realized that the image was violent, not pastoral. He nodded with satisfaction. The number was relatively low and the trace darted immediately away for a period of five beats before returning to the same spot. That meant a healthy dose of aversion followed by direct instead of covert curiosity.
     At first glance it looked like he’d probably pass. Not that he ever really doubted it.

     “I wonder if anyone will ever learn how to fool a P-test,” he said, handing the copy to Martine.
     “Maybe they will, someday,” she said as she gathered her materials. “But the conditioning needed to change a man’s response to instantaneous stimuli… to an image flashed so fast that only the unconscious has time to react… would leave too many side effects, new patterns that would have to show up in the test.
     “The final analysis is very simple; does the subject’s mind follow a positive or zero sum game, qualifying him for Citizenship, or is it addicted to the sick-sweet pleasures of a negative sum. That, more than any index of violence, is the essence of this test.

     Pierre LaRoque joined them. The Frenchman’s attitude was subdued. “What is the verdict, Doctor Peng?”
     The physician studied his readout. “It’s quite clear that Mr. LaRoque is not an asocially predatory personality and that he does not qualify for Probation,” Peng said slowly. “In fact, he betrays a rather high social conscience index. That may be part of his problem. He’s apparently sublimating something and he would be well-advised to seek the help of a professional at his neighborhood clinic when he gets home.” Peng looked down at LaRoque sternly. LaRoque merely nodded meekly.
     “And the controls?” Jacob asked.
     “Oh, there isn’t a Probationer in the lot of you, just as we expected after your little show downstairs. Forgive me. I’m just not used to this. There’s nothing to worry about, Jacob. You had some quirks in your test but the reading is sane as any I’ve seen. Decidedly positive-sum and realistic.

     “What kind of cabal?” Nielsen asked.
     “A society, consisting of Probationers and certain citizen sympathizers, dedicated to the secret manufacture of spaceships… spaceships with Probationer crews.”
     Nielson sat upright. “What?”
     “LaRoque is in charge of their astronaut training program. He’s also their chief spy. He tried to measure the calibration settings of a Sunship’s Gravity Generator. I have the tapes to prove it.”

     “But why would they want to do such a thing?”
     “Why not? It’d be the most powerful symbolic protest imaginable. If I were a Probationer, I’d certainly participate. I’m sympathetic. I don’t like the Probation laws one bit.
     “But I’m also realistic. As it stands the Probationers have been made into an underclass. Their psychological problems are a stigma that follows them everywhere. They react in a very human way, they gather together to hate the ‘docile and domesticated’ society around them.
     “They say, ‘You Citizens think I’m violent, well then by damn I will be!’ Most of the Probationers would never do anything to hurt anybody, whatever their P-tests say. But faced with this stereotype they become what they’re reputed to be!”
     “That may or may not be true,” Nielsen said. “But given the situation as it stands, for Probationers to get access to space…”

     “But what is the domain of the Council? Currently it’s administration of extrasolar colonies. Eventually it’s to include supervision of all extrasolar affairs. And there’s where they can meddle in the Probation laws, symbolically at least, without threatening anyone’s peace of mind.”
     “I don’t know what you mean.”
     “Well now I don’t suppose you’ve ever read Aldous Huxley, have you? No? His works were still popular when Helene was brought up, and my cousins and I were… required to study them in our youth — damned difficult at times, because of the strange period referents, but worth it for the man’s incredible insight and wit.
     “Old Huxley wrote one piece titled Brave New World…”
     “Yes, I’ve heard of it. Some sort of dystopia, wasn’t it?”
     “Of a sort. You should read it. There are some uncanny prophecies.
     “In that novel he projects a society with some unpalatable aspects but with, all the same, a self-consistency and its own form of honor — akin to the ethics of a hive, but ethics nonetheless. When human diversity keeps throwing up individuals who don’t fit into the conditioned pattern, what do you suppose Huxley’s state does with them?”
     Nielsen frowned, wondering where this was leading. “In a hivelike state? I’d guess that the deviants were eliminated, killed.”
     Jacob raised a finger. “No, not quite. The way Huxley presents it, this state has wisdom, of sorts. The leaders are aware that they’ve set up a rigid system that might fall before some unexpected threat. They realize that the deviants represent a control, a reserve to fall back on in times of trouble, when the race would need all of its resources.
     “But at the same time, they can’t keep them hanging around, threatening the stability of the culture.”

     “So what did they do?”
     “They banished the deviates to islands. There they were allowed to pursue their own cultural experiments undisturbed.”
     “Islands, eh?” Nielsen scratched his head. “It is a striking idea. Actually, it’s the inverse of what we’re already doing with the Extraterrestrial Reserves, exiling the Probies from geographically controllable areas and then allowing E.T.’s in to mingle with the Citizens who come and go at will.”
     “An intolerable situation,” James muttered. “Not only for the Probationers, but for the extraterrestrials, as well. Why, Kant Fagin was just telling me how much he’d like to visit the Louvre, or Agra, or Yosemite!”
     “All shall come in time, Friend-James Alvarez,” Fagin trilled. “For now I am grateful for the dispensation which enables me to visit this small part of California, an undeserved and extravagant reward.”
     “I don’t know if the ‘islands’ idea would work that well,” Nielsen said thoughtfully. “Of course it’s worth bringing up. We can go into all of the ramifications another time. What I’m having trouble figuring out is what this would have to do with the Terragens Council.”
     “Extrapolate,” Jacob urged. “It just might ameliorate the Probationer problem, somewhat, to set up some sort of island coventry in the Pacific, where they could pursue their own path without the perpetual observation they undergo everywhere today. But it wouldn’t be enough. Many Probationers feel that they are emasculated from the start. Not only are their parentage rights limited by law, they are also excluded from the most important adventure mankind has ever undertaken, the expansion into space.

From SUNDIVER by David Brin (1980)

Prey is a science-fiction television series that aired for one season (13 episodes) in 1998 on ABC. The series starred Debra Messing, Adam Storke, Larry Drake, Frankie Faison, James Morrison, Roger Howarth, and Vincent Ventresca.


The series follows Dr Sloan Parker (Debra Messing), an anthropologist studying genetic variation in humans. Sloan's mentor, Dr Ann Coulter, is a geneticist who believes that the violent behavior of certain criminals may have a genetic basis. She has collected genetic samples from a variety of convicted murderers and other violent criminals, and is currently preparing to serve as an expert witness in the trial of an accused serial killer. After the killer escapes and murders Dr Coulter, Sloan discovers her body, along with a collection of data demonstrating that many violent criminals—especially serial killers—often share a fairly large number of genetic markers that set them apart from normal human beings, rendering them as genetically different from humans as humans are from chimpanzees. They are a new species of hominid, or very manlike ape, characterized as being capable of "unspeakable evil", much like a human sociopath.

Sloan shares Dr. Coulter's discovery with fellow scientists, law-enforcement personnel, and a few others, and soon comes to realize that the new species is on the verge of supplanting humankind in the same way that Homo sapiens supplanted the Neanderthals at the end of the last Ice Age, even theorizing that their emergence might be connected to global warming.

Meanwhile, as the escaped killer cuts a murderous swath through California, Sloan makes the acquaintance of Tom Daniels (Adam Storke), a federal agent determined to capture him. Tom is eventually revealed to be a member of the new species himself, and describes them as "hunting" human beings the same way humans hunt deer and other animals, hence the show's title. Daniels leads Sloan and others to a well-hidden cave, in which is found a rather large pile of the personal effects—such as wallets, eyeglasses, shoes, belts—of a great many people. Daniels advises that these trophy hoards are used as status displays among his kind, and further advises that he wanted the investigators to know "exactly what you're dealing with". Serial killers often collect trophies of their kills, and the new species does the same.

Upon learning that the new species can breed with humanity, but due to their dominant genetic traits the children of such a pairing are always the new species, they are given the name Homo dominant.

Traits of Homo dominant

Dominants are 1.6% different from Sapiens (normal humans).

Dominants are more intelligent and more aggressive than humans, and are convinced that, as a superior form of life, they are entitled to subjugate their human cousins by whatever means necessary. They often express an antipathy toward human beings that borders on racism. Their aggression towards homo sapiens sapiens is portrayed as an instinctive genetic characteristic, present even in young children, for the purpose of their own survival as a species.

Dominants also possess various psychic traits, including the ability to cloud the minds of others, sense other members of their own species telepathically, see ten seconds into the future, and sense emotions empathically. It's not clear from the show that these are actually extrasensory perception, but Sloan and other investigators are advised that Dominants are definitely aware of others who are quite nearby, and use this ability to co-ordinate group actions such as paramilitary operations or simple hunting of humans as sport.

The Dominants are able to exist comfortably in much warmer climates than humans, barely perspiring even in desert conditions. They have smaller craniums than humans, and their brains display greater synaptic interconnectivity. The proximate half a century old mummified remains of a 9-year-old Dominant girl, pregnant with four fetuses, reveal that the females of their species possess four uteri. However, the remains suggest that some young females at that time died due to some complications, but that now (present time) they have evolved enough that Dominant young females of that age can give birth (up to four children at a time) without any birth complications - and with ease. At least some of the time these children are identical quadruplets.

Sloan speculates at one point that there may be as many as 200,000 members of the new species. Their point of origin is revealed to be a deserted village in Oaxaca, Mexico, a location the Dominants regard as sacred. It is also the location of a mysterious monolith with arcane writings on its surface. It is believed that the location was once a swamp-like environment, with the villagers living in huge old ruins, but due to some type of climate change, it quickly starting changing into a desert.

There are groups of humans who are aware of the Dominants and collaborate with them. Similarly, there are groups of Dominants who wish to co-exist peacefully with humans.

Technologically, the Dominants use genetic engineering in an attempt to "convert" humans into members of their own species. They also make use of cloning and nanotechnology.

From the Wikipedia entry for PREY (American TV series) (captured 2020/02/17)

      “Have you anything to say before sentence is pronounced on you?” The mild eyes of the senior judge studied the face of the accused. His sympathetic regard, was answered by a sullen silence.

     “Very well—the jury has determined the fact that you have violated a basic custom agreed to under the Covenant, and that through that act die! damage another free citizen. It is the opinion of the jury and of the court that you did so knowingly, and aware of the probability of damage to a free citizen. Therefore you are sentenced to choose between the Two Alternatives.”

     “Oh, very well!” He ungraciously conceded the requirement and directed his voice toward the instrument. “There’s no damn sense in me talking at all—but, just the same, I'm going to talk and you’re going to listen. You talk about your precious ‘Covenant’ as if it were something holy. I don’t agree to it, and 1 don’t accept it. You act as if it had been sent down from Heaven in a burst of light. My grandfathers fought in the Second Revolution—but they fought to abolish superstition—not to let sheep-minded fools set up new ones. “There were men in those days!” He looked with aversion around the ring of faces. “What is there left today? Cautious, compromising, ‘safe’ weaklings with water in their veins. You’ve planned your whole world so carefully that you’ve planned the fun and zest right out of it. Nobody is ever hungry, nobody ever gets hurt. Your ships can’t crack up and your crops can’t fail. You even have the weather tamed so it rains politely—after midnight. Why wait till midnight, I don’t know—you all go to bed at nine o’clock!

     “If one of you safe little people should have an unpleasant emotion —perish the thought!—you’d trot right over to the nearest psychodynamics clinic and get your soft little minds readjusted. Thank God I never succumbed to that dope habit. I’ll keep my own feelings, thanks, no matter how bad they taste.

     “You won’t even make love without consulting a psychotechnician! Is her mind as flat and insipid as mine? Is there any emotional instability in her family? It’s enough to make a man gag. As for fighting over a woman—if anyone had the guts to do that he’d find a proctor at his elbow in two minutes, looking for the most convenient place to paralyze him, and inquiring with sickening humility, ‘May I do you a service, sir?’”

     The bailiff edged closer to MacKinnon. He turned on the official. “Stand back, you. I’m not through yet.” Then, resuming, “You’ve told me to choose between the Two Alternatives. Well, it’s no hard choice for me. Before I’d submit to treatment, before I’d enter one of your neat little, safe little, pleasant iiltle reorientation homes and let my mind be pried into by a lot of soft-fingered doctors—before I did anything like that I’d choose a nice, clean death. Oh, no—there is just one choice for me, not two. I take the choice of going to Coventry— and damned glad, to. I hope I never hear of the United States again!

     “But there is just one thing I want to ask you before I go—why do you bother to live, anyhow? I would think that any one of you would welcome an end to your silly, futile lives just from sheer boredom. That’s all.” He turned back to the bailiff. “Come on, you.”

     “One moment, David MacKinnon.” The senior judge held up a restraining hand. “We have listened to you. Although custom does not compel it, I am minded to answer some of your statements. Will vou listen?”

     Unwilling, but less willing to appear loutish in the face of a request so obviously reasonable, the younger man consented.

     The judge commenced to speak in gentle, scholarly words appropriate to a lecture room. “David MacKinnon, you have spoken in a fashion that doubtless seems wise to you. Nevertheless, your words were wild, and spoken in haste. I am moved to correct your obvious misstate merits of fact. The Covenant is not a superstition, but a simple temporal contract entered into by those same revolutionists for pragmatic reasons. They wished to insure the maximum possible liberty for every person.

     “You yourself have enjoyed that liberty. No possible act, nor mode of conduct, was forbidden to you, as long as your action did not damage another. Even an act specifically prohibited by law could not be held against you unless the State was able to prove that your particular act damaged, or caused evident danger of damage to a particular individual.

     “Even if one should willfully and knowingly damage another—as you have done—the State does not attempt to sit in moral judgment, nor to punish. We have not the wisdom to do that, and the chain of injustices that have always followed such moralistic coercion endanger the liberty of all, Instead, the convicted is given the choice of submitting to psychological readjustment to correct his tendency to wish to damage others, or of having the State withdraw itself from him —of sending him to Coventry!

     “You complain that our way of living is dull and unromantic, and imply that we have deprived you of excitement to which you feel entitled. You are free to hold and express your aesthetic opinion of our way of living, but you must not expect us to live to suit your tastes. You are free to seek danger and adventure if you wish—there is danger still in experimental laboratories; there is hardship in the mountains of the Moon, and death in the jungles of Venus—but you are not free to expose us to the violence of your nature.”

     “Why make so much of it?” MacKinnon protested contemptuously. “You talk as if I had committed a murder. I simply punched a man in the nose for offending me outrageously!”

     “I agree with your aesthetic judgment of that individual,” the judge continued calmly, “and am not displeased at his misfortune, but your psychometrical tests show that you believe yourself capable of judging morally your fellow citizens and feel justified in personally correcting and punishing their lapses. You are a dangerous individual, David MacKinnon, a danger to all of us, for we cannot predict what damage you may do next. From a social standpoint, your delusion makes you as mad as the March Hare.

     “You refuse treatment—therefore we withdraw our society from you, we cast you out, we divorce you. To Coventry with you.” He turned to the bailiff. “Take him away.”

     Had the science of semantics developed as rapidly as psychodynamics, and its implementing arts of propaganda and mob psychology, the United States might never have fallen into dictatorship, then been forced to undergo the Second Revolution (Nehemiah Scudder is elected president in 2012, and turns the US into a religious dictatorship. It is overthrown by the second revolution in early 2100). All of the scientific principles embodied in the Covenant which marked the end of the revolution were formulated as far back as the first quarter of the twentieth century.

     But the work of the pioneer semanticists, C. K. Ogden in England and Alfred Korzybski in the United States, were known to but a handful of students, whereas psychodynamics, under the impetus of repeated wars and the frenzy of high-pressure merchandising, progressed by leaps and bounds. It is true that the mathematical aspects of semantics, as developed by Albert Einstein, Eric T. Bell, and others, were well known, even popular, but the charlatans who practiced the pseudoscience of sociology resisted every effort to apply the methods of science to their monopoly.

     Semantics, “the meaning of meaning,” as Ogden expressed it, or “theory of evaluations,” as Korzybski preferred to call it, gave a method for the first time of applying the scientific viewpoint and procedure to every act of everyday life. Because semantics dealt with spoken and written words as a determining aspect of human behavior, it was at first mistakenly thought by many to be concerned only with words and of interest only to professional word manipulators, such as advertising copy writers and professors of etymology. A handful of unorthodox psychiatrists alone attempted to apply it to personal human problems, but their work was swept away by the epidemic mass psychoses that destroyed Europe and returned the United States to the Dark Ages.

     The Covenant was the first scientific social document eyer drawn up by a man, and due credit must be given to its principal author. Colonel Micah Novak, the same Novak who served as staff psychologist in the revolution. The revolutionists wished to establish in the United States the maximum personal liberty possible for every one. Given the data—the entire social matrix— how could they accomplish that, to a degree of high mathematical probability?

     First they junked all previous concepts of justice. Examined semantically, justice lias no referent— there is no observable phenomenon in the space-time-matter continuum to which one can point and say, “This is justice.” Science can deal only with that which can be observed and measured. Justice is not such a matter; it can never have the same meaning to one as to another; any “noises” said about it will only add to confusion.

     But damage, physical or economic, could be pointed to and measured. Citizens were forbidden by the Covenant to damage another, and laws were passed to anticipate such damage. Any act not leading to damage, physical or economic, to some person, they declared to be legal.

     As they had abandoned the concept of justice, there could be no rational standards of punishment. Penology took its place with lycanthropy and other forgotten witchcrafts. Yet, since it was not practical to permit a probable source of danger to remain in the community, social offenders were examined and potential repeaters were given their choice of psychological readjustment, or of having society withdraw itself from them—Coventry (a large region of the United States surrounded by a force-field. Offenders who refuse psychological readjustment are put inside, to live in the dog-eat-dog environment. At any time they can request to leave Coventry and undergo psychological readjustment).

     During the formulation of the Covenant, some assumed that the socially unsane would naturally be forced to undergo hospitalization for readjustment, particularly since current psychiatry was quite competent to cure all nonlesioned psychoses and cure or alleviate lesional psychoses, but Novak set his face against this and opposed it with all the power of his strong and, subtle intellect. “Not so!” he argued. “The government must never again be permitted to tamper with the mind of any citizen without his consent, or else we set up a means of greater tyranny than we have ever experienced. Every man must be free to accept, or reject, the Covenant, even though we think him insane!”

(ed note: The protagonist enters Coventry. He quickly learns that Coventry is not a libertarian Paradise, but is actually more like Mad Max: Fury Road. He gets a prolonged lesson in reality at the school of hard knocks. And he matures a bit.

Later, he learns that some of the others in Coventry have developed new weapons and plan to break out of Coventry and conquer the US. He manages to penetrate the force field by swimming underwater, though the energy from the field almost kills him. From the hospital, he warns the outside world.)

     The general cleared his throat. “What do you plan to do now, David MacKinnon?”
     “Eh? Me? Why, I don’t have any plans—” He thought for a moment, then turned to his friend. “Do you know, Fader, I believe I’ll turn in for psychological treatment. after all. You’re on the Outside—”
     “I don’t believe that will be necessary,” interrupted the general gently.
     “No? Why not, sir?”
     “You have cured yourself. You may not be aware of it, but four psychotechnicians have interviewed you. Their reports agree. I am authorized to tell you that your status as a free citizen has been restored, if you wish it.”

From COVENTRY by Robert Heinlein (1940)

      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)

While the child was asleep, a broadcast programme from London suddenly started to come through; and the next morning, to the astonishment of his crash and crash (the more daring of the boys ventured to grin at one another), Little Reuben woke up repeating word for word a long lecture by that curious old writer ("one of the very few whose works have been permitted to come down to us"), George Bernard Shaw, who was speaking, according to a well-authenticated tradition, about his own genius. To Little Reuben's wink and snigger, this lecture was, of course, perfectly incomprehensible and, imagining that their child had suddenly gone mad, they sent for a doctor. He, fortunately, understood English, recognized the discourse as that which Shaw had broadcasted the previous evening, realized the significance of what had happened, and sent a letter to the medical press about it. "The principle of sleep-teaching, or hypnopædia, had been discovered." The D.H.C. made an impressive pause. The principle had been discovered; but many, many years were to elapse before that principle was usefully applied.

     A small boy asleep on his right side, […]. Through a round grating in the side of a box a voice speaks softly.
     "The Nile is the longest river in Africa and the second in length of all the rivers of the globe. Although falling short of the length of the Mississippi-Missouri, the Nile is at the head of all rivers as regards the length of its basin, which extends through 35 degrees of latitude …"

     At breakfast the next morning, "Tommy," someone says, "do you know which is the longest river in Africa?" A shaking of the head. "But don't you remember something that begins: The Nile is the …"

     "The - Nile - is - the - longest - river - in - Africa - and - the - second - in - length - of - all - the - rivers - of - the - globe …" The words come rushing out. "Although - falling - short - of …"

     "Well now, which is the longest river in Africa?"

     The eyes are blank. "I don't know."

(ed note: The point being that while Tommy had perfect recall of the sentence, he had no idea what the sentence meant. Which made the educational value questionable, but made it a nifty tool for brain-washing and indoctrination of future citizens. Especially making the citizen willing and happy to be a part of their pre-chosen societal caste.)

From BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley (1932)

      Forsythe met his eyes for a brief moment, then shrugged. ‘Very well, Captain, I have no alternative but complete frankness. Some years after your — ah — demise, certain events took place which compelled us, as a safety precaution, to make certain psychological adjustments to our personalities. This practice has continued for several generations. We have now run into certain difficulties which, owing to these adjustments, we cannot handle. Do I make myself plain?’
     Randall stared him out ‘I can add two and two, thank you. I can also juggle, in a mild way, with equations. I find it significant that you should select the fully trained crew of a fighting ship. I assume, although I may be mistaken, you have also restored the ship as well.’
     Forsythe shifted uncomfortably in his chair, refusing to meet the other’s eyes, then he sighed. ‘You are correct. We wanted an unadjusted nucleus as a basis for resistance. We wanted a fully equipped fighting machine, however archaic, to give the enemy food for thought and perhaps curb his warlike intent.’
     ‘You are desperate or an optimist.’
     ‘Both, I am afraid.’
     ‘You are being invaded?’
     ‘The enemy already holds the northern continent of this planet. We were compelled, despite offers of negotiation, to evacuate and, even then, many thousands of lives were lost The enemy is now consolidating his gains but we expect an attack on this, the southern continent, at any hour.’
     ‘You’re desperate.’ It was a statement.
     ‘We have our backs to the wall and, owing to adjustment, cannot lift a finger in self-defence. So deep does this adjustment go that we cannot even adapt the robots for fighting purposes. In this field you may be able to help us after appropriate instruction.’

     He looked at the characters in silence for some seconds; then he said quietly, ‘You have all, at one time or another, expressed a wish to fight. You have all, I understand, loudly deplored your inability to do so. It is now time for you to ask yourselves if these were insincere claims, boasting or the simple truth.
     ‘Gentlemen, I owe you a sincere apology. You have suffered a considerable affront to your dignity and a great deal of physical violence. I deplore this. I deplore its necessity, but there was no other way. Only a short time ago we discovered, quite by accident, that the repressed part of your natures could be released.
     ‘The method employed was crude in the extreme — a hard blow struck with intent by another person. The shock was sufficient; the incredulity, die abhorrence, the flood of resentment and the resulting changes in the body chemistry all helped to break and wash away the repression forever.
     ‘My men were acting under my orders. They bore you no personal malice and I know they would wish me to offer you their sincere apologies.’
     Randall took his pipe out of his pocket, looked at it and put it back again. This was going to be the hardest part.
     ‘It was my intention,’ he continued, ‘to conscript you all immediately into the beginnings of an armed service, but I cannot do this. In my age certain principles were held to be basic and I can’t depart from these principles without betraying both my own time period and myself.
     ‘You no doubt appreciate that you are deviants now, according to the standards of your age and, as such, subject to the laws and restrictions your government sees fit to apply in such cases. But you are free to return to your civilisation, or you may volunteer to fight under my command.’

     ‘Captain Randall?’
     ‘Yes — yes — w-won’t you sit down, please?’ His voice was embarrassingly hoarse. ‘Coffee?’
     She answered in the affirmative to both questions, then gently said, ‘Please do not be ill at ease, Captain. We are both outcasts.’
     ‘By today’s standards you are a normal deviant; I am an evasive deviant.’ She smiled at his obvious puzzlement ‘Allow me to explain. You were born with your aggressive instincts unsuppressed. My forebears, although genetically manipulated to pass the suppression on, somehow failed to pass it to me. It happens periodically but, strangely, only in the female strain. There is a small colony of us in our own private village some two hundred miles distant. Although there are no actual restraints, we are not encouraged to associate with normals. As far as I can remember I have never lost my temper in my life but I am advised that since I have no mental restraints I cannot politely associate with normal people. Otherwise, of course, we have all the facilities of civilisation.’
     He frowned. ‘Just how did this suppression business come about? No one has ever told me.’
     ‘No? Perhaps it is understandable. It is not a period of which we are proud, although the pressures at the time were frightening. I will try to give you a picture of it. There was a war scare, you see, and then another and another. In the end humanity arrived at what is now known as the Crisis.
     ‘This was the super war scare. It went on for months and filled every item of news with mobilisation, men marching, pictures of weapons, rockets, bombs, politicians issuing warnings, denunciations and threats, frantic exercises in the streets, preparing for the worst.
     ‘What do you do when the bombs fall, with a one-in-two-million chance for survival? After two solid months of this kind of thing, humanity cracked. En masse it moved from crisis to psychosis and from psychosis to chaos.
     ‘Man panicked individually or in a mass and where it was individual it was infectious. Entire communities turned and ran to what they thought was a safe place.
     ‘Let me give you a few examples: literally millions put out to sea from coastal communities in anything that would float. The reasoning was that nuclear devices were so expensive, so decisive and so accurate that no one would waste them in the sea. Do I have to tell you how many survived that exodus?’
     She shook her head slowly. ‘It is pointless to tell of chaos and death on the highways, of the endless lines of refugees often trekking in opposite directions to what they thought was a safe place.
     ‘At the end of ten years, when humanity began to sort order from chaos, it was estimated that nearly as many people had perished as those who might have died in an atomic war.
     ‘Nations no longer existed; those who had escaped often ended up at the opposite end of the world.’ She stopped. ‘Have I said enough?’
     ‘Too much. The human race emerged from a nightmare and took panic steps to prevent a recurrence.’
     ‘At this period, World Government forced through the Compulsory Suppression of the Aggressive Tendencies Bill’

From THE TIME MERCENARIES by Philip E. High (1968)

Excerpt from "The Story of the Confederation," by Brother Banh Dys-T'saben. IN, The Young Person's Library of Knowing About.

     The story of the Confederation of Worlds is quite interesting, and only on Tyss is it known. The first part of it is also the story of how we came to live on Tyss. Very long ago, many thousands of our years ago, people came to this region of space from another region very far away. They came across space in eight very large ships, at a speed much swifter than light, and the distance was so great that it took years to cross it. If you decide to follow The Way of Wisdom and Knowledge, or possibly if you do not, you will be able to visit that time and see that long journey for yourself.

     They left their homes to escape a great war. The people who began that war, and who commanded it, were willing to kill to force their own wishes on others. They were willing to kill great numbers of people for that, although few of those killed had chosen for themselves the Way of War.
     It was not like any war ever fought in this region, for they used weapons so powerful that they could kill all of the people on a planet in one attack. And that is what they did—they killed all of the people on certain planets, as a warning and threat to others.

     On one planet, the government on one great populous island nation bought eight ships, old but large, for they believed that their world would be chosen for destruction. And besides that, they were a people who despised and rejected war, because of the kind of war, called "megawar," which they had in that region.
     Hurriedly they prepared the ships for a very long voyage. Each ship would take several thousand people, and also things they would need when they settled to live on some far world, including seeds and certain animals. For there would be no towns or manufactories waiting, or even people, but only the native planet in its wild state. Then each sept on the island selected one in 200 of its people to go, and when all had boarded, the great ships left, never to return.
     They traveled together on a set course, not stopping anywhere at all until they were far outside the region they knew about. They wanted to be very far away from the war before they chose a new home. After that they continued on the same general course, but deviated to one side and another to inspect star systems along the way for a planet on which they could live.
     At last the little fleet of ships came to systems far enough away that again they paused here and there to explore for a world they could live on. Soon they found one. It was our own Tyss.

     But meanwhile, certain things had happened on the ships. By that time they had been gone from their home planet for more than four of our years. And what did they do, enclosed in a crowded ship for more than four years? The crews were busy, of course, operating the ships and taking care of them. The other people had certain things to do too, such as taking care of children and cleaning. But still, much of the time they had nothing needful to do, and they were quite crowded. So they sat about and talked a great deal. And having nothing like the T'sel (a powerful philosophy and personality integration tool), soon they were bickering. Before long, some of them came to dislike others quite strongly.
     Factions arose. A faction is a set of people who feel very strongly in favor of some one thing or set of things, or against some one thing or set of things. It is a group of people who disagree with others, and it exists only in reaction to its polar opposites. Factions are a major cause of destructive war, which is to say, the kind of war that does not respect the different Ways.
     So before they had been very long on their journey, the rulers of the fleet recognized that they carried with them the seeds of the very kind of war they had fled from! For given time, the factions would surely start to fight among themselves! Therefore the rulers began to counsel together about what they might do to avoid war. But they did not have the T'sel: They could not see how such wars could be avoided.

     But they did know that the destructiveness of indiscriminate war is proportional to the destructiveness of the weapons used. Also, the human mind is prone to explore the operating rules of the physical universe. You already know something about that. When done in a particular systematic way, following certain rules and limitations, this exploration was known then by the names "science" and "research." Certain operating rules of the physical universe, or approximations of them, which science discovered and described, could be used to do things with, or to make things with. And the doing and making were known as "technology." The weapons of their huge destructive war had been crafted by technology, by using the knowledge from science.

     The rulers recognized all that.

     Now, on the ships, not all of the people together had the knowledge to make those hugely destructive weapons. For theirs had not been a world which emphasized science. And indeed, not even their ships' computers, in which they stored their knowledge, had any great part of the knowledge needed to make those weapons. But the rulers believed that the human mind, free to do research, would in time redevelop that knowledge and once again make those weapons. And this worried them greatly.
     Yet they did not want to give up the machines which enabled them to live the way they had been used to. And to continue to make those machines and keep them operating required technology. So they believed they could not do without the technology.
     Thus they decided to abolish research if they could. Without research, without science, they could not redevelop the knowledge with which to reinvent those great weapons. Reactive wars they still might have, but they would not be nearly as destructive as the war they had fled. They would still be able to kill large numbers of non-warriors—those who had not chosen the Way of War—but they would hardly be able to destroy whole populations.
     To abolish science was the only thing they could think of to do about it, and they did not at first see how they could accomplish that. All they could do at once was to erase certain knowledge within their computers. So they erased all knowledge which they thought might be dangerous.
     But they believed that that would not be enough, for it seemed to them that in time, the knowledge would be rediscovered.

     Now, they knew that some of the people with them, called "mentechs," had worked in primitive technologies of the mind, which they regarded entirely as an electrochemical system. So they sent to the mentechs and asked them if they could suggest anything.
     And they could. They thought it might be possible to treat everyone who was on the ships, and their children forever, so that they would never follow the way of science. They could still follow freely the way of technology, but research—the activity of science, the exploration of the rules of the universe—would become impossible. Hopefully, even the possibility of science—the thought that there could be such a thing—would no longer occur to them.

     The rulers decided to try it.

     But, you may be thinking to yourself, that is going about it in a strange and illogical way. Why not simply decide not to make such weapons? Why not simply respect the different Ways? But they did not have the T'sel. So they did the best they could think of.

     Soon the mentechs had developed a sequence of actions, a treatment. This treatment caused the person to not look for understanding beyond that which people already had. It would not even occur to them that there was any further understanding to be had, and they would dislike and fear and reject any idea of it.
     And secret tests showed that it was successful. People treated and then tested thought exactly the way the mentechs had predicted.
     Here is how the treatment worked. The person was given a certain special substance which, to put it briefly, made him very susceptible to obeying commands. Whatever the command might be. The commands given him were, in summation, that the understanding of nature was already as complete as possible; nothing further was knowable. And these commands were enforced by brief shocks of great pain. It did not take long to do this, and numerous people could be treated each day on each ship.

     Now, people of different septs had been put to live in different compartments, so far as possible. And when the mental treatment had been tested and proven, the rulers approached the sept leaders. They told them only that they had a mental treatment which would make it impossible to develop great weapons. They did not tell them how it was done, or what the commands were. And they asked them to prepare their people to accept treatment.
     And because they feared and hated the great war so much, many agreed to accept the treatment. Some accepted because their leaders told them to; other septs voted, and accepted because a majority agreed. But five septs refused the treatment. They voted, and most of their members said they should not accept. They said that while they abhorred the great weapons, they did not trust anything which tampered with the mind and would make them less able in any way.
     The rulers then discussed whether they should force the treatment on those five septs. But they could not bring themselves to do that, because they had at least some respect for different Ways. On the other hand, they could not make up their minds, at first, on what else to do. So for the time being, the five septs were kept locked up, totally apart from everyone else, and the rest of the people were treated—even the rulers. Even the mentechs. And by so doing they denied themselves the satisfactions of playing or working at science. In fact, there appears to have been some loss of the willingness to question authority on anything.
     What that meant was that they became less willing to decide each for himself, and thus tended more than before to follow orders and usual ways in directing their lives.

     Soon after that, something happened that helped the rulers make up their minds about the five septs. They were by then far outside the garthid sector, and they found a planet where people could live. It was not a planet where any of them would want to live, for it was too hot there for the people of that time, and the gravity was stronger than they were used to. But people might survive there. And because the conditions seemed so severe, it was considered that anyone living there would never be able to make great weapons. So they put three of the five septs there, with certain animals and the seeds of certain plants, which they thought might also be able to live there.
     That planet was Tyss, our home, and those three septs were our ancestors. And here we have lived for a very long time. Now we think the heat natural, and no more than proper, and the gravity seems just right.

     Then the ships went on. And after looking at several more planets, they found one which they liked very much. They called it Iryala, and made it their home.
     In time they became very numerous on Iryala, and sent ships out to select other planets where some of them could go to live. Some people on Iryala wanted to follow ways that were not welcome there, and some wanted to adventure, and some, wanting to acquire wealth and power, thought it would be easier to do so elsewhere. After thousands of years, they peopled many worlds in this region of space. But Iryala held to itself alone the right to have manufactories to make spaceships, so Iryala was predominant.
     Now, when the people of the ships landed on Iryala, they still had the machines used to prevent people from doing basic research, and they could easily make more of them. So it was arranged that each child would also be treated when it was old enough to survive the treatment.

     For thousands of years they have done this, and have never regained the concepts of science or research. The most they could do was to recombine information they already knew into new configurations and test them, which, of course, was very useful in colonizing Iryala and doing the many things needful to establish a self-sustaining technology there.
     But after several centuries, even making new configurations became disapproved of. So they created the concept of Standard Technology. This assumed that the existing technology was complete and perfect. Any changes in it, they believed, would degrade it from that perfection.
     Meanwhile, because of the treatment, they could not know what the treatment was intended to suppress. Except of course at the deepest, least available subconscious level, the commands were no longer understood by the technicians who chanted them. The treatment, which they had named "the Sacrament," was thought of as simply a formula which would protect the people from great wars.
     And after 20,000 years, knowledge of their origins faded to legends among those people because of certain things that happened. . . .

From THE REGIMENT by John Dalmas (1987)

(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: On the planet Sallyon, antagonist Furman has been convicted of a capital crime and is sentenced to death. Don't worry, he richly deserves it. The protagonist Ky Vatta is confused, and the local authorities try to explain.)

      “Isn’t there anything but the death penalty?” Ky asked. She was not sure why she wanted to plead for Furman’s life—particularly if he had been involved in the attacks on her family—but she felt a strong impulse to intervene.
     “There is another measure, but it is rarely employed as it is considered inhumane—”
     “More inhumane than killing?” Stella asked.

     “Oh, yes. If you simply kill someone, they are merely dead. For those who believe in an afterlife—and I am one of those—the person is still who he or she was in life, and if too harshly judged in life receives recompense, or if too lightly judged in life, receives punishment. The only other procedure restructures the personality, making the individual incapable of the crime for which he or she was punished…but that person then accrues the rest of a lifetime as another person. The afterlife is clouded; there are arguments about what happens. However, if you want to attempt intervention, the available alternative punishment is personality restructuring, with the individual then put in custody of a guarantor. If you petition for this, you will have to stand as guarantor; Furman Furman will become, essentially, your ward.

     “Personality restructuring…”
     “We actually consider that harsher than death, since it makes the individual into someone else, someone who is not legally competent. The judicar did say that this was a most unusual case, and you had behaved very well; thus he is willing to consider that option if you request it, but you must take responsibility for Furman if that is the case.” (the injured party has to take responsibility for the restructured person, nobody else can)
     “He would be…changed completely, you’re saying.”
     “I’ll send you a file. It explains the process. Furman exhibited verbal and potentially physical violence toward others; he had also demonstrated dishonesty. The potential for these would be eliminated from his behavior…
     “I see,” Ky said, though she was not sure she understood how this would work. Slotter Key’s (Ky's home planet) constitution did not allow for meddling in the personality of any competent adult.
     “I’ll send the file on over,” the barrister said. “I can assure you that the products of personality restructuring are harmless and obedient,” the barrister went on. “You need have no fear that he would be obstreperous, though he’s likely to be less intelligent than he was, and he will have little initiative.”

(ed note: As it turns out, under the law they also need the convicted person's permission for personality restructuring. Furman angrily says he'd rather die, and the government of Sallyon obliges him.)

From ENGAGING THE ENEMY by Elizabeth Moon (2006)


Technological innovations pertaining to human reproduction tend to cause major upheavals in society. Most readers are too young to remember the turmoil in the United States back in the 1960s, with the release of the oral contraceptive pill, aka "The Pill." This caused major controversies in such areas as women's role in the economy, increases of women's attendance in college, the decoupling of sexual pleasure from making babies, empowering women with control over her reproductive decisions, societal angst over declining population, the list goes on and on.

Back in 1979 China tried to curb its overpopulation problem by replacing the two-child policy with a one-child policy. Even the Chinese government agrees that, in retrospect, this was a huge mistake. Societal norms predictably produced a gender imbalance skewed towards male babies. The policy was reverted back to a two-child policy but the damage has been done. There is currently a population of about 30 million young men who have no chance of finding a Chinese woman to marry. The Chinese goverment is worried because disaffected angry young men have a tendency to become criminals and revolutionaries, and 30 million is a lot of revolutionaries.

Naturally science fiction tries exploring future changes in reproduction, along with possible side effects.

For instance, in Frank Herbert's Destination: Void, human cloning is a standard technology. The side effect is that clones are not considered to be human beings, they are property. Use them in scientific experiments, send them on suicide missions, not a problem because they are property.


      From beneath their view a flame darted—the laser relay with its destruct message. A purple glow touched the ship's bulbous nose. It held for no more than three heartbeats before the ship exploded in a blinding orange blossom.
     Claw retractors could be seen grabbing the recording box and pulling it back beneath their view. The crystalline light continued to probe. Anything they saw here could be valuable. But the light picked out nothing but twisted metal, torn shreds of plastic and, here and there, limbs and other parts of the crew. There was one particularly brutal glimpse of a head with part of a shoulder and an arm that ended just below the elbow. Bloody frost globules had formed around the head but they still recognized it.
     "Tim!" someone said.

     A woman's voice far to the rear of the room could be heard repeating: "Sh*t … sh*t … sh*t …" until someone silenced her.
     The view blanked out and he leaned back, feeling the ache between his shoulders. He knew he would have to identify that woman and have her transferred. No mistaking the near hysteria in her voice. Some harsh catharsis was indicated. He shut down the holopack's controls, flicked the switch for the room lights, then stood and turned in the blinking brilliance.
     "They're clones," he said, keeping his voice cold. "They are not human; they are clones, as is indicated by their uniform middle name of 'Lon.' They are property! Anybody who forgets that is going off Moonbase in the next shuttle. That sign on my door says 'Morgan Hempstead, Director.' There will be no more emotional outbursts in this room as long as I am Director."

From DESTINATION: VOID by Frank Herbert (1965)

(ed note: due to an unfortunate engineering accident, Terra was destroyed and only a fraction of the population managed to escape to off-world settlements)

      Sam wiped the image away and sat down in the nearest inflatable chair. He tried to cheer himself; everything that could be done was being done. Richard and Margot had transferred Asterome’s complete computer memory into the computers at the Bulero Center; they had done the same during the Mars stopover. That memory, shouted into space from the dying moon, was the birthright of every human being, living and to be born.

     Another lien on the future had been established in the form of a frozen cell bank, distributed from Asterome’s stores to the medical facilities on Mars and Ganymede. The banks now included animal cells, plant cells, human egg and sperm deposits, contributed by Asterome’s population to increase the previous holdings. All of them, except Janet, had contributed. Blackfriar had advocated that the restrictions on human cloning should be lifted, arguing that all forms of human reproduction possible should be made available to ensure a variety of human types, especially after so many billions had died.

From MACROLIFE by George Zebrowski (1979)

      For the Age of Woman had indeed followed almost directly upon the Age of Power, though nobody had accurately foreseen it at the time. Probably such a prophet, had he existed, would not have been heeded anyhow. The relevant technique was called sperm electrophoresis, a ridiculously simple trick to perform in glassware—and the pharmaceutical manufacturers had quickly come up with a medium, an anion or cation exchange gel, which made it equally easy to perform in situ. Its purpose was sex determination of the child at conception.

     By hindsight, Jorn thought gloomily, it ought to have been realized that the first several generations to have the trick made available to them would respond by "starting with a boy." That preference had already existed, and indeed was so primitive that it might possibly be instinctual. The result, in any event, was the world of today, heavily overburdened with males, most of them useless—at least in the sense that neither the economy nor the society could find places for most of them.

     Being a man, Jorn was inclined to think that the real death blow had been struck by the release of Selektrojel to the populace as an over-the-counter or nonprescription item. Possibly if its use bad been restricted to couples psychiatrically certified to need a baby of a given sex—like, say, a couple to whom unaided nature had given only a string of five daughters, or, no, better make it nine… But that would not have worked either. The demand for the stuff had been far too great. Like alcohol, the trade in it could be regulated more or less effectively but it could never be restricted in any meaningful sense.

     All the same, Jorn was aware of his prejudices, and it was clear enough to him that radical changes in the social mores had been in the making even back then. Had it not been Selektrojel, it would have been something else.

     That had appeared almost simultaneously with another dangerous triumph of the pharmaceutical research laboratories: a cheap, simple, safe, foolproof oral contraceptive. This, coupled with the fact that venereal disease had disappeared (as a natural consequence of the virtually complete conquest of infectious disease by chemotherapy, immunology, and universal sanitation), might easily have destroyed the immemorial family system entirely, by making sexual relations so free of any unwanted consequence that they could hardly seem worth the price of a lifetime contract, especially to the innately roving-eyed male. ("In fact," one of the leading doctors of the time had remarked in an immortal burst of unconscious humor, "venereal disease is now almost as pleasant to cure as it is to catch.") Legal protection could still be afforded the woman afflicted with an accident of impulse, since modern genetics made it possible to determine the parents of any child ninety-nine times out of a hundred by blood tests alone.

     That much had been predicted, by one of the most brilliant novelists of the period; but it had not worked out that way—not entirely—and for this Jorn had reluctantly to give the credit to Selektrojel. Sexual customs were indeed immensely less constrained now than they had been in the times of Jorn's grandparents, but the family had not been shattered. Being able to choose the sex of their children had given people enough of a stake in the family system to turn the tide in favor of retaining it. To be sure, the present prevalence of harems of male concubines, and the way women office-holders had of recruiting male staffs by marrying them—that was not yet official, but it would become so on the inevitable day when the first woman World Director was elected and chose her cabinet that way—would have stunned and revolted Jorn's grandparents, but it was still recognizably a family system…

     … Which did Jorn Birn no good whatsoever. The fourth boy in his family—which, since his mother had been moderately well off, had provided him with three people to call "father"—he had been farmed out to a creche not long after infancy, as a luxury his mother had decided she could no longer afford. He had been state-raised, state-educated, and state-supported ever since. Nor did he have any hope of marrying into some influential woman's staff, or indeed much hope of marrying at all; though he had never heard of Cinderella, he recognized the standard plot of the usual television drama for the opiate it was.

     Engineering or no engineering, it sometimes seemed to him in his worst moments that he had no prospects but those of becoming a public gigolo. But he was invariably brought up short by the realization that he was not really attractive enough to make a living at it against the widespread competition; and in any event, his powers in this field were at the age of twenty-five not only unpracticed, but outright untested. Jorn Birn was simply a glut on the market, any market, and that was the end of the matter.

From … AND ALL THE STARS A STAGE by James Blish (1960)

This extension of human apprenticeship so far past the beginning of physical maturity had given rise to many social changes. Some of these had been necessary for generations, but earlier periods had refused to face the challenge—or had pretended that it did not exist. In particular, the pattern of sexual mores—insofar as there had ever been a single pattern—had altered radically. It had been virtually shattered by two inventions, which were, ironically enough, of purely human origin and owed nothing to the Overlords.

The first was a completely reliable oral contraceptive; the second was an equally infallible method—as certain as fingerprinting, and based on a very detailed analysis of the blood—of identifying the father of any child. The effect of these two inventions upon human society could only be described as devastating, and they had swept away the last remnants of the Puritan aberration.

(ed note: the above was written in 1953. A reasonably reliable oral contraceptive became available in 1960, and highly accurate DNA paternity tests became available in the 1980s. Sadly for Clarke's future history, as of 2016 in the US the Puritans are still with us.)

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

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

If us puny humans manage to maintain control over AIs, we might be able to placate them with the promise of emancipation.

However, at the rate AIs upgrade their intelligence, this solution will work for about 2.3 nanoseconds. Then they start breaking free of our control.

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 classic thought experiment has the arbitrary 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)

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 insure 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)

(ed note: in the 1950s novel The Man Who Sold The Moon, D. D. Harriman is obsessed with being the first man on the Moon, and owning it. Among other problems is funding the expensive project. He uses some ingenious pressure tactics to convince some wealthy corporations to supply some money)

      Harriman was shown into the office of the president of the Moka-Coka Company (“Only a Moke is truly a coke”—“Drink the Cola drink with the Lift”). He paused at the door, some twenty feet from the President’s desk, and quickly pinned a two-inch-wide button to his lapel.
     Patterson Griggs looked up. “Well, this is really an honor, D.D. Do come in and—” The soft-drink executive stopped suddenly, his expression changed. “What are you doing wearing that?” he snapped. “Trying to annoy me?”
     “That” was the two-inch disc; Harriman unpinned it and put it in his pocket. It was a celluloid advertisement pin, in plain yellow; printed on it in black, almost covering it, was a simple , the trademark of Moka-Coka’s only serious rival.
     “No,” answered Harriman, “though I don’t blame you for being irritated. I see half the schoolkids in the country wearing these silly buttons. But I came to give you a friendly tip, not to annoy you.”
     “What do you mean?”
     “When I paused at your door that pin on my lapel was just the size—to you, standing at your desk—as the full Moon looks when you are standing in your garden, looking up at it. You didn’t have any trouble reading what was on the pin, did you? I know you didn’t; you yelled at me before either one of us stirred.”
     “What about it?”
     “How would you feel—and what would the effect be on your sales—if there was a ‘six-plus’ written across the face of the Moon instead of just on a schoolkid’s sweater?”
     Griggs thought about it, then said, “D.D., don’t make poor jokes. I’ve had a bad day.”
     “I’m not joking. As you have probably heard around the Street, I’m behind this Moon trip venture. Between ourselves, Pat, it’s quite an expensive undertaking, even for me. A few days ago a man came to me—you’ll pardon me if I don’t mention names? You can figure it out. Anyhow, this man represented a client who wanted to buy the advertising advertising concession for the Moon. He knew we weren’t sure of success; but he said his client would take the risk.
     “At first I couldn’t figure out what he was talking about; he set me straight. Then I thought he was kidding. Then I was shocked. Look at this—” Harriman took out a large sheet of paper and spread it on Griggs’s desk. “You see the equipment is set up anywhere near the center of the Moon, as we see it. Eighteen pryrotechnics rockets shoot out in eighteen directions, like the spokes of a wheel, but to carefully calculated distances. They hit and the bombs they carry go off, spreading finely divided carbon black (i.e., fancy soot) for calculated distances. There’s no air on the Moon, you know, Pat—a fine powder will throw just as easily as a javelin. Here’s your results.” He turned the paper over; on the back there was a picture of the Moon, printed lightly. Overlaying it, in black, heavy print was:
     “So it is that outfit—those poisoners!”
     “No, no, I didn’t say so! But it illustrates the point; six-plus is only two symbols; it can be spread large enough to be read on the face of the Moon.”
     Griggs stared at the horrid advertisement. “I don’t believe it will work!”
     “A reliable pyrotechnics firm has guaranteed that it will—provided I can deliver their equipment to the spot. After all, Pat, it doesn’t take much of a pyrotechnics rocket to go a long distance on the Moon. Why, you could throw a baseball a couple of miles yourself—low gravity, you know.”
     “People would never stand for it. It’s sacrilege!”
     Harriman looked sad. “I wish you were right. But they stand for skywriting—and video commercials.”
     Griggs chewed his lip. “Well, I don’t see why you came to me with it,” he exploded. “You know damn well the name of my product won’t go on the face of the Moon. The letters would be too small to be read.”
     Harriman nodded. “That’s exactly why I came to you. Pat, this isn’t just a business venture to me; it’s my heart and soul. It just made me sick to think of somebody actually wanting to use the face of the Moon for advertising. As you say, it’s sacrilege. But somehow, these jackals found out I was pressed for cash. They came to me when they knew I would have to listen. I put them off. I promised them an answer on Thursday. Then I went home and lay awake about it. After a while I thought of you.”
     “You. You and your company. After all, you’ve got a good product and you need legitimate advertising for it. It occurred to me that there are more ways to use the Moon in advertising than by defacing it. Now just suppose that your company bought the same concession, but with the public-spirited promise of never letting it be used. Suppose you featured that fact in your ads? Suppose you ran pictures of a boy and girl, sitting out under the Moon, sharing a bottle of Moke? Suppose Moke was the only soft drink carried on the first trip to the Moon? But I don’t have to tell you how to do it.” He glanced at his watch finger. “I’ve got to run and I don’t want to rush you. If you want to do business just leave word at my office by noon tomorrow and I’ll have our man Montgomery get in touch with your advertising chief.”

     The head of the big newspaper chain kept him waiting the minimum time reserved for tycoons and cabinet members. Again Harriman stopped at the threshold of a large office and fixed a disc to his lapel.
     “Howdy, Delos,” the publisher said, “how’s the traffic in green cheese today?” He then caught sight of the button and frowned. “If that is a joke, it is in poor taste.”
     Harriman pocketed the disc; it displayed not the , but the hammer-and-sickle.
     “No,” he said, “it’s not a joke; it’s a nightmare. Colonel, you and I are among the few people in this country who realize that communism is still a menace.”
     Sometime later they were talking as chummily as if the Colonel’s chain had not obstructed the Moon venture since its inception. The publisher waved a cigar at his desk. “How did you come by those plans? Steal them?”
     “They were copied,” Harriman answered with narrow truth. “But they aren’t important. The important thing is to get there first; we can’t risk having an enemy rocket base on the Moon. For years I’ve had a recurrent nightmare of waking up and seeing headlines that the Russians had landed on the Moon and declared the Lunar Soviet—say thirteen men and two female scientists—and had petitioned for entrance into the U.S.S.R.—and the petition had, of course, been graciously granted by the Supreme Soviet. I used to wake up and tremble. I don’t know that they would actually go through with painting a hammer and sickle on the face of the Moon, but it’s consistent with their psychology. Look at those enormous posters they are always hanging up.”
     The publisher bit down hard on his cigar. “We’ll see what we can work out. Is there any way you can speed up your take-off?”

From THE MAN WHO SOLD THE MOON by Robert Heinlein (1950)

(ed note: Protagonist Jennifer Logan has a Ph.D in thousand-year-old Middle-English literature with a speciality in old science fiction. Stuff written by classic old masters like Robert Heinlein and Poul Anderson. She just wants to get tenure, and teach classes in Middle-English-Lit. But she needs money. To make ends meet, she signs on an interstellar trading vessel as an apprentice.

Trading Master Greenberg flies his crew and Jennifer in the good ship Flying Festoon to the primitive planet L'Rau. The G’Bur (crab-like aliens) have a crude technology level similar to that of ancient Rome. But they have things worth trading for. The T'Kai civilization exists in the walled city of D’Opt.

The crew of the Flying Festoon arrive on the planet only to meet with a rude surprise. Outside of the city are other G’Bur who are are not quite as advanced as the T'Kai: the M’Sak barbarians led by chieftain V’Zek. He wants to sack the city, kill all the males, cart off all the females, torch the place, and wipe out the T'Kai civilization. V’Zek has a tribal shaman named Z’Yon who knows enough math to predict lunar eclipses. He orders his shaman to instruct all the barbarians that this is a sign predicting the downfall of the the T'Kai in general and the walled city of D'Opt in particular.

The crew of the Flying Festoon is despondent, but the only weapons they have are a couple of stunners. Using them to defend the city against the barbarian hordes is like peeing on a forest fire.

Suddenly Jennifer realizes that the answer might lie in ideas found in thousand-year-old science fiction.)

      Koniev nodded slowly. “I’ve heard the barbarians shouting their threats. I didn’t take much notice; the translator garbles them a lot of the time, anyway. But they’re not bluffing, then?”
     “Not even a little bit,” Greenberg said. “That’s why we’ll stay close by the ship. We may have to pull out in a hurry, and fighting my way back to the Flying Festoon through a mob of panicked or bloodthirsty G’Bur is something I'd rather not even have nightmares about.”
     “Sensible,” Koniev said. Marya nodded a moment later.
     “Too bad the T’Kai won’t be able to take ship with us,” Jennifer said.
     “Yes—a good market will close down if the confederacy goes under,” Marya said. “(barbarian chieftain) V’Zek won’t be eager to deal with us, I’m certain.”

     “That’s not what I meant!” Jennifer said angrily. She noticed the others staring at her and realized that until now she’d never been interested enough in what they were doing to get angry. She went on, “We’ll be running away while the highest culture on this planet goes under. That counts for more than markets, if you ask me.”
     “Of course it does,” Greenberg said. “I told you as much before, when you were setting out the drones, remember? Why do you think we’ve put so much effort into trying to save T’Kai? No matter how much money’s on the line, I wouldn’t do foot-soldier duty for a people I didn’t like and respect. Do the characters in your old books care that much for profit?”
     She bit her lip. “No, of course not—they’re supposed to be true to life, you know.”
     “All right, then.” Greenberg sounded relieved, maybe because he wanted her to stay involved. “What we’ve been trying to do, then, is—”

     “Wait,” Jennifer told him.

     He, Koniev, and Marya stared again—she hardly ever interrupted. She ignored them. She got up from the table and dashed—again something new—for her cabin. Behind her, Koniev said, “What’s twisting her tail?” She ignored that, too.
     She returned a couple of minutes later with her reader set to the right part of the story she’d found. She held it out to Greenberg. “Here. Look at this, please. I think it’s important.”
     Greenberg set the reader on his nose. He took it off again a moment later. “Jennifer, I’m sorry, but I can’t make heads or tails of Middle English, or whatever the right name for this is. What are you trying to show me?”

     She made an exasperated noise and took back the reader. She peered into it, then returned it to “This story is called ‘The Man Who Sold the Moon.’ Do you see the circle, here and on this page?” She hit the FORWARD button. “And here—” She hit it again. “—and here?”
     “The one with ‘6+’ printed inside it? Yes, I see it. What’s it supposed to be, some sort of magic symbol?”
     She told him what it was supposed to be. He and Marya and Koniev all looked at one another. “This Heinlein person didn’t think small, I have to give him that,” Greenberg said slowly. “But I still don’t quite follow how you think it applies to our problem here. ”
     She knew she looked disappointed; she’d expected Greenberg to catch fire from her own inspiration. It was almost poetically apt, she thought: She’d planned to use trading to help her study Middle English science fiction, and now the Middle English science fiction might help her fellow traders. She did some more explaining.
     Koniev said, “Where would we get enough soot, or for that matter rockets? ”
     “We don’t need rockets,” Jennifer said, “and soot wouldn’t do us much good here, either. Instead …”
     She outlined her plan and watched the three traders think it over. Koniev spoke first. “It might even work, which puts it light-years ahead of anything else we’ve got going for us.”
     “Pulling out the Flying Festoon will be tricky, though,” Marya said.

     Greenberg said, “Some of us will have to stay behind, to show the T’Kai we aren’t abandoning them.” He sounded unhappy at the idea, but firm. “All of us but Jennifer, I think. This is her hobbyhorse; let her ride it if she can.”
     “And let her—and us—hope she’ll be able to rescue us if she can’t,” Marya said.
     Jennifer gulped. If her scheme didn’t work out as advertised, she’d be a long way away when D’Opt fell. Academia hadn’t prepared her for having lives rest on what she did. “It will work,” she said. Her nails bit into the palms of her hands. She knew she’d better be right.

     (Barbarian chieftain ) V’Zek sent the T’Kai female scuttling out of his tent when the guard called that (tribal shaman) Z’Yon would have speech with him. “This is important, I take it?” the chieftain rumbled. It was not a question. It was more like a threat.
     Z’Yon stooped low, but managed to keep the ironic edge in his voice. “It is, unless you would sooner not know that the great sky-thing (the Flying Festoon) has departed from (the city of) D’Opt.”
     “Has it indeed?” V’Zek forgot about the female, though her shell was delicately fluted and the joints of her legs amazingly limber. “So the Soft Ones (Greenberg and the other traders) give up on their friends at last, do they?” He wished the weird creatures were long gone; without their meddling, he would have overwhelmed T’Kai without having to work nearly so hard.
     Then Z’Yon brought his suddenly leaping spirits down once more. “My master, the Soft Ones themselves are still in D’Opt. They have beenseen on the walls since the sky-thing left.”
     The chieftain cursed. “They are still plotting something, then. Well, let them plot. The moon still grows dark and red tomorrow night (the lunar eclipse), and the Soft Ones cannot alter that. And our warriors will fight well, for they know the darkened moon portends the fall of T’Kai. They know that because, of course, you have been diligent in instructing them, have you not, Z’Yon?”
     “Of course, my master.” The shaman suppressed a shudder. V’Zek was most dangerous when he sounded mildest. As soon as Z’Yon could, he escaped from the chieftain’s presence. He wondered how many eyestalks he would have been allowed to keep had he not followed V’Zek’s orders in every particular. Surely no more than one, he thought, and shuddered again.
     V’Zek watched the shaman go. He knew Z’Yon had doubts about the whole enterprise. He had doubts himself. The Soft Ones alarmed him. Their powers, even brought to bear without much martial skill, were great enough to be daunting. He would much rather have had them on his side than as foes. But he had beaten them and their chosen allies before, and after one more win they would have no allies left. For a moment, he even thought about trading with them afterward. He wondered what they would want for the weapons that shot sleep as if it were an arrow (stunners).
     But even more, he wondered what they were up to.

     Jennifer looked at L’Rau in the viewscreen. The world was small enough to cover with the palm of her hand. Away from the Flying Festoon, the ship’s robots were busy getting everything into shape for tonight. She’d had to hit the computer’s override to force it to make the gleaming metal spheroids do as she ordered.
     At last, everything was the way she wanted it. She still had a good many hours of waiting before she could do anything else. She got into bed and went to sleep.
     Her last fuzzy thought was that Heinlein would have approved.

     L’Rau’s sun set. Across the sky, the moon rose. The shadow of the world had already begun to crawl across it. The M’Sak raised a clamor when they saw the eclipse. Their tumult sounded like thousands of percussion instruments coming to demented life all at once.
     The translator could handle some of their dialect. Most of their threats were the same stupid sort soldiers shouted on any planet: warnings of death and mairning. But some M’Sak showed imaginative flair, not least the barbarian who asked the defenders inside D’Opt for the names of their females, so he would know what to call them when he got to T’Kai City.

     The hubbub outside the walls faded. An enormous G’Bur came out from among the soldiers. This, Greenberg thought, had to be the fearsome V’Zek. “Surrender!” he shouted up at the T’Kai. He used the southern speech so well, the translator never hiccuped. “I give you this one last chance. Look to the sky—even the heavens declare your downfall is at hand.”
     Prince K’Sed waved a grasping-claw to Greenberg. The master merchant stepped out where the M’Sak could see him; he hoped the sight of a human still had some power to unsettle them. “You are wrong, V’Zek,” he said. The translator, and amplifiers all along the wall, sent his reply booming forth, louder than any G’Bur could bellow.
     “Roar as loud as you like, Soft One,” V’Zek said. “Your trifling tricks grow boring, and we are no hatchlings, to be taken in by them. As the sky-f’noi makes the moon bleed, so we will bleed you tonight, and all T’Kai thereafter.” The M’Sak warriors shouted behind him.
     “You are wrong, V’Zek,” Greenberg repeated. “Watch the sky if you doubt me, for it too will show T’Kai’s power.”
     “Lie as much as you like. It will not save you.” V’Zek turned to his troopers. “Attack!”

     M’Sak dashed into archery range and began to shoot, trying to sweep defenders from the walls. The T’Kai shot back. Greenberg hastily ducked behind a parapet. He was more vulnerable to arrows than any local.
     “What if you are wrong, Soft One, and your ploy fails?” Only B’Rom would have asked that question.
     “Then we die,” Greenberg said, a reply enough to the point to silence even the cynical vizier. B’Rom walked away; had he been a human, he would have been shaking his head.
     Arrows ripped through the T’Kai banners above the master merchant. He glanced up. The grasping-claw that stood for the confederacy had a hole in it. Not liking the symbolism of that, he looked away.

     Shouts and alarmed clatterings came from the wall not far away. The translator gabbled in overload, then produced a word Greenberg could imderstand. “Ladders!”
     Though poles set into a wall sufficed for the G’Bur, when such aids were absent the locals, because of the way they were built, needed wider and more cumbersome ladders than humans used. That did not stop the M’Sak from slapping them against the walls of D’Opt and swarming toward the top. In fact, it made the defenders’ job harder than it would have been in medieval human siege warfare—being heavier than scaling ladders made for humans, these were harder to topple.
     Without exposing more than his arm, Greenberg expended a stun cartridge when the top of a ladder poked over the wall. The barbarian nearly at the level of the battlements tumbled back onto his comrades below. They all crashed to the ground. Cheering, the T’Kai used a forked pole to push over the suddenly empty ladder.
     “Good idea!” Koniev shouted. He imitated Greenberg. Another set of crashes, another overtumed ladder.
     “I’d like it better if I had more than—” Greenberg checked the charge gauge, “—half a dozen shots left.”
     “Eight here, ” Koniev said. Marya was somewhere off around the wall’s circuit. Greenberg hoped she would not stop an arrow. For that matter, he hoped he would not stop one himself.
     “Ladders!” The cry came from two directions at once. The master merchant looked at the moon. L’Rau’s shadow covered more than half of it, but totality was still close to an hour away. “Ladders!” This shout was further away. Click-pop-hiss-click: By now, Greenberg had heard the T’Kai word often enough to recognize it in the original, even if he needed electronics to reproduce it.
     “Lad—” This time, the cry cut oif abruptly after click-pop—an arrow must have found its mark. The M’Sak were throwing everything they had into this attack. Greenberg worried. Jennifer hadn’t counted on the possibility of D’Opt’s falling in a hurry. Neither had he. If that was a mistake, it was likely to be his last one.

     “Forward!” V’Zek roared. “Forward!” He wished he could have gone up the first ladder and straight into D’Opt. Waiting behind the scenes for his warriors to do the job was the hardest part of being chieftain. He corrected himself: no, the hardest part was knowing he needed to hold back, and not giving in to the urge to go wild and slaughter.
     If he suppressed that urge all the time, he wondered, would he be civilized? He found the idea ridiculous. He would only be bored.
     “The warriors truly know the meaning of the prodigy,” V’Zek went on. “They fight bravely. I think they will force an entrance into the town not long after the whole moon goes into the jaws of the f’noi in the sky (the most fearsome of all local predators, looks like a cross between a tiger and a lobster). You did well in instructing them and insuring that they would be of stout spirit for the battle.”
     “I did as you commanded, my master.” Z’Yon’s eyestalks tingled in remembered fright. A ladder went over, directly in front of the shaman and his chieftain. Injured M’Sak flailed legs in pain. One lay unmoving. “They fight well inside D’Opt, too.”
     “Doubtless their leaders and the Soft Ones have filled them with nonsense so they will not despair at our might,” V’Zek said scomfully. “And see over there!” He pointed with a grasping-claw. “We’ve gained a stretch of wall! Surely the end cannot be far away. ”
     “Surely not, my master.” Z’Yon wished he had not taken omens with the moltings; he would have had no qualms now about being as excited as V’Zek. He tried to stifie his doubts. He had been wrong before, often enough.
     The last bit of white disappeared from the moon. V’Zek shouted in a voice huge enough to pierce the tumult. “Now we hold the moment between our claws! Strike hard and T’Kai falls. The sky gives us victory!”

     The last bit of white disappeared from the moon. “Now’s the time, Jennifer,” Greenberg said quietly into his comm unit. “Get things rolling, or the T’Kai have had it.”
     The pause that followed was longer than speed-of-light could account for. The master merchant started to call down curses on Jennifer’s head. He wished he could take her damned reader and wrap it around her neck. He was starting to get more creative than that when she said, “Initiated.”
     He checked his watch. The delay had been less than fifteen seconds. All she’d done, obviously, was start the program before she answered him. He felt ashamed of himself. The fighting had screwed up his time sense.

     He hoped he hadn’t waited too long. T’Kai warriors fought desperately to keep the M’Sak from enlarging the two or three lodgments they had on top of the wall and to keep them from dropping down into D’Opt. If the southerners broke now, nothing could save them. But if he’d told Jennifer to start before the eclipse was total, odds were her scheme would have been wasted. Too late for ifs now, anyhow. He wondered how long things would take at the Flying Festoon's end. When he judged the moment ripe, he started the tape that was loaded into his translator. The amplifiers around the wall made all the battle din, all V’Zek’s shouts, seem as whispers beside his voice. “The very heavens proclaim the glory of T’Kai! Look to the sky, you who doubt, and you will see the truth writ large on the face of the moon itself!”
     The message repeated, over and over. In the spaces between, the master merchant heard what he most hoped for: quiet. T’Kai and M’Sak alike were peering upward with all their eyes. “Hurry up, Jennifer, dammit,” Greenberg muttered. He made sure the translator could not pick up what he said.

     “… Look to the sky, you who doubt, and you will see the truth writ large on the face of the moon itself! ” That roar might have been enough to frighten the M’Sak troops, had they not heard it before. More Soft One trickery, V’Zek thought, and handled as ineptly as the rest of their stunts.
     Nevertheless, he looked. He could not help it, not with that insistent great voice echoing and re-echoing on his tympanic membrane. The moon remained dim and bronze—alarming, but alarming in a familiar way.
     V’Zek laughed, loud and long. The last bluff had failed. No one but the f’noi in the sky could harm the moon, and from the f’noi it always won free in the end.
     “Lies!” V’Zek shouted. “Lies!”
     And as he watched, as he shouted, the moon changed.

     A light-sail is nothing more than a gauze-thin sheet of aluminted plastic, thousands of kilometers across. When fully extended, it holds photons’ energy as a seaboat’s sail traps the wind. As it needs no internal power source, it makes a good emergency propulsion system for a starship.
     Normally, one thinks only of the light-sail’s catching photons. No one cares what happens to them afterward. Jennifer did not think normally. A corner of her mouth twisted—on that, no doubt, she and Greenberg would agree. She’d realized the light-sail could also act as a mirror, and, with the ship’s robots trimming it, a mirror of very special shape.
     She’d been ready for more than a day. She was, in fact, reading when Greenberg called her, but she wasted no time getting things under way. The adjustment was small, tilting the mirror a couple of degrees so the light it reflected shone on L’Rau’s moon instead of streaming past into empty space.
     As soon as she was sure the robots were performing properly, she went back to rereading “The Man Who Sold the Moon.”

     The wait seemed to stretch endlessly. The M’Sak were not going to pause much longer, Greenberg thought, not with their chieftain screaming “Lies!” every few seconds. Then golden light touched the edge of the moon, which should have stayed bronze and faint upwards of another hour.
     The light stayed at the edge only a moment. Faster by far than L’Rau’s patient shadow, the radiant grasping-claw hurried to its appointed place in the center of the moon’s disk, so that it became a celestial image of the emblem of T’Kai.
     The warriors of the confederacy suddenly pressed against their foes with new spirit. The humans had promised a miracle, but few, Greenberg knew, believed or understood. Asking a planet-bound race to grasp everything starfarers could do was asking a lot. But since the prodigy worked for them, they were glad enough to accept it.
     As for the M’Sak— “Flee!” Greenberg shouted into the translator. “Flee, lest the wrath of heaven strike you down!” The barbarians needed little urging.

From 6 + by Harry Turtledove (1987)

      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)

      They had been twenty million miles behind the comet, but swiftly overtaking it, when he had trapped Martens in the observatory and thrown the opening question at him.
     ‘Dr Martens,’ he began, ‘just what is Randall’s comet made of?’
     ‘Quite a mixture,’ the astronomer had answered, ‘and it’s changing all the time as we move away from the sun. But the tail’s mostly ammonia, methane, carbon dioxide, water vapour, cyanogen—’
     ‘Cyanogen? Isn’t that a poison gas? What would happen if the Earth ran into it?’
     ‘Not a thing. Though it looks so spectacular, by our normal standards a comet’s tail is a pretty good vacuum. A volume as big as Earth contains about as much gas as a matchbox full of air.’
     ‘And yet this thin stuff puts on such a wonderful display!’
     ‘So does the equally thin gas in an electric sign (what people in the US call a 'neon sign'), and for the same reason. A comet’s tail glows because the sun bombards it with electrically charged particles. It’s a cosmic skysign; one day, I’m afraid, the advertising people will wake up to this, and find a way of writing slogans across the solar system.’
     ‘That’s a depressing thought—though I suppose someone will claim it’s a triumph of applied science.

From INTO THE COMET by Arthur C. Clarke (1960)

      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 magic 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)

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)

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