Saturday, November 21, 2020

Concerning “Something New, Perhaps”

     One of the strange blessings of being effectively unable to write about politics and current events at the moment is the availability of extra time to speculate. That’s a writer’s fuel, and not to be skimped or sloughed even at the busiest times. So I’ve been doing a lot of daydreaming about “the next book,” and what sort of story it should tell.

     I like heroes and happy endings, as any Gentle Reader familiar with my fiction will already know. I also like substantial themes, so the reader can feel he got more out of the story than a few hours of entertainment. But I appreciate that the entertainment must come first and be unflagging – that the storyteller fails when he allows message to eclipse enjoyment.

     So the other day, when I set fingers to keys, I started from a premise that’s not perfectly original: the counter-colonization of a depopulated Earth. A similar idea was employed some years ago: specifically, in Keith Laumer and Rosel George Brown’s novel Earthblood. My backstory conception differs from theirs, in that I postulate that Earth had been depopulated by genocidal yet entirely human wars and their aftermaths.

     The Counter-Hegira from Cetia, Mankind’s sole colony world, is motivated by the steady intensification of the same sort of international, interracial, and inter-creedal animosities that gave rise to the wars that exterminated Man upon Terra. People are people, I reasoned, and the enmities they bear toward one another will go with them wherever they roam. Still, some Cetians are anxious to get away from the strife, even if it means an interstellar trek that will take eleven objective years (four months subjective at 99.95% of lightspeed).

     The first question is: What will the 30,000 Counter-Hegirans do when they get to Earth?

  • What sort of dispersion over the Earth’s surface will they elect?
  • What sort of societies will they build?
  • How high a technological level can they bring with them?
  • Over a substantial interval – say four centuries – how high will that level rise?
  • Will their offspring know any more peace than their forebears did on Cetia?

     My supposition is that the population of Cetia would be distributed into races, creeds, and philosophies roughly the same way as that of Earth today. If that distribution is reproduced among the Counter-Hegirans, the history of Earth Renewed would tend to resemble that of our era. However, the history of our time, and of course of the Cetian milieu they fled, would be known to the Counter-Hegirans. Would they learn anything from it, or would implacable economic, sociological, religious, and philosophical forces result in the same sort of tensions, strife, and internecine warfare that we suffer today?

     The story I think I’ll tell will be of one society on Earth Renewed that’s far more successful than the others, because of the insight and foresight of a lone genius. America had a gaggle of geniuses at her birth – a small but adequate gaggle – which resulted in a nation that bestrides the world. Could one man of sufficient brilliance, insight, and determination “pull off the trick” a second time? What would happen to the nation he founds over the centuries after his death?

     And what will our hero-to-be, four centuries after the death of the Founder, need to do to preserve “the blessings of liberty” against the forces that seek to destroy them? Will he resemble anyone we know of today?

     Stay tuned.


Margaret Ball said...

Once again, you've started with an interesting idea and I look forward to seeing what you do with it.

One genius?

Just one?

Show me...

evilfranklin said...

What will this genius do with the thousands of survivors of the previous civilization?

Francis W. Porretto said...

I postulate that there are no survivors. I might have to come up with a rationale, but that's not an insuperable challenge.

Tar said...

OK, I'll bite. I spend a bit of time kicking around "go big or go home" type hard sci-fi questions on SFIA (Science & Futurism with Isaac Arthur) on FB (go watch his Youtube channel if you want to blow your mind for a few hours). So, here's how I'd do it if I were the lone genius coming back to save the day / conquer:

First off, they'll bring the lessons of colonizing a raw world with them when they come back home. They'll first deploy probes to ascertain the damage (and if there are any survivors among the ruins) - after that, the first step is to take control of orbit. It is highly likely that Earth orbit after the fall of high tech human civilization in a big war is a total Kessler Syndrome mess of high-speed orbital junk. However, that means that fleets of robot scows could clean it up in a few years, and collect enough recyclable raw material to build a cylindrical rotating space habitat.

That's the first logical step - make sure it's safe to "park" and build orbital structures that'll be useful to colonize the ground. While this is happening, "windows" of clear paths through the debris could be established, allowing safe passage for ground exploration teams or cargo lifts from the surface. As the cleanup proceeds, the paths widen, until the skies are clear (and repopulated with new satellites and stations). There's a lot of other reasons you'd want to "take it slow" and not just move back in.

First up, you've been away for a while - there's no telling what divergent evolution has done to your germs vs the local ones - it'd be easy to get sick by novel pathogens that are "close enough" to get along with humans... especially if man-made plagues were part of the extinction event. Likewise, toxins, radioactivity, and other lingering hazards from the rotting hulk of technological civilization and the wars that ended it could be a serious issue. Then there's the problem of dealing with the locals (if there are any, that is)...

I think a conflict of personalities leading different aspects of the mission would be a likely scenario for the setting. The orbital cleanup and infrastructure building project would occupy one sector, while the exploration and science teams would have a whole 'nother perspective on things... and if there are "locals", especially if they're "savages", you can expect there will be a range of perspectives on them and how to deal with them. One idea, though...

One of the main limitations of any civilization's growth is energy. If your people start in space, however, it makes a lot of sense to base starting energy infrastructure off solar power, since it's relatively easy to make a bunch of cheap mirror satellites and put them at a Lagrange point and beam in extra sunlight to collection stations near Earth, and convert the power to beams to send to wherever you want it on surface stations etc. Scaled up constantly to a huge amount, that kind of power would be really helpful for making something like an orbital ring megastructure for Earth.

Individually, one malfunctioning mirror would be harmless... and beaming in more sunlight to collectors in orbit and sending it to the ground would be rationalized as safer and cleaner than running reactors of various kinds. However, the same array of thousands of space mirrors, aligned to focus on a single target, could also be used to make an "Archimedes Array" to fry things in space or on the ground with concentrated sunlight!

So if one of those 30K Counter-Hegirans is a megalomaniac, and decides to fry the main cities of local savages with the array... and perhaps might have his own array turned against him by the heroes after they seize the controls.

Tar said...

Thinking about characters... the "lone genius" would be the director of the overall project and the commander of the mission - standard typecast is a really driven kind of guy, always working. He'd be supported by an ensemble of highly competent officers - standard mix of roles you'd expect. He'd be in close contact with whoever was in charge of Medical while on the trip - lots of radiation and such in interstellar space - if Med Chief is a she, they might wind up being an item after that, long voyages are boring and there's not much to do until they get there.

Once in Earth orbit (or perhaps nearby at Luna), he'd be working heavily with the engineering and salvage people - the science and survey would be almost an afterthought to him - "back burner" projects that would become more important later after they'd had time to bear fruit. This might miff the Med Chief but she might be having a little colonist to distract her (which will miff her more if he's off working all the time).

Need to give some outsider perspective on him though - I was thinking that the explorer and naturalist team types would both be thrilled to explore the world, and at the same time put off by the "back burner" focus of central command. Engineering would eventually start supporting them on the ground once most of the orbital mess was cleaned up, building them bases and such on the ground, but the explorers and naturalists will likely be pissed when they realize that a lot of the "resource extraction" is ruining what amount to enormous archeological digs of the ruins of the old civilization.

Simple split for a line of conflict might be Engineering sympathizing with the goals of the Exploration and Naturalist teams, but Administration giving their marching orders. Might be a split in the general population's opinion on what to do, as well - those who'd colonized the ground might feel differently than those who stayed on the rotating orbital habitats, which might be like the Garden of Eden in terms of their habitability, and screened from whatever nasty pathogens etc are running around on the ground. Those who'd gone to ground might also be sympathetic to the locals (again, if any), which might be a tension point if the "sky people" don't like or trust them.

I think it's a great concept - there's lots of room for the drama to play out, and the canvas is just begging for some commentary on our current civilization, exploring its ruined monuments and bones, that is. Happy to kick ideas around with you on this stuff if you want - I'll have time over the winter, biz is slow usually until the spring.