Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Slower Than Light And Social Change

Larry Niven wrote a few "Leshy Circuit" stories in which slower than light (STL) interstellar ramjets trade between Earth and a handful of extra-solar colonies. A very long novel could be written in which a single spaceship makes two circuits, beginning and ending on Earth and visiting Earth at mid-point. Thus, the space travelers would interact with decades or centuries of social change on several planets.

In both "The Star Beast" and "Conversation in Arcady" by Poul Anderson, an STL ship returns to a changed, by now utopian, Earth. In the latter story, a ship had left an overcrowded Earth to make a fresh start, made a long search for a Paradisal planet to colonize and, having found one, returned to Earth, expecting to excite some interest, to say the least.

MEANWHILE, back on Earth -

A fiendish idea for technological weaponry is an instrumentality that kills people but does not damage property. Thus, a population could be exterminated and their country immediately appropriated. After some such weapon has been used, a much reduced world population benefits from high-tech automation and robotics that had been designed to support much greater numbers - so this fortunate few neither works nor strives for anything. Needless to say, there is mutual incomprehension between the man with a mission from the stars and the indolent couple who visit his landed space boat out of idle curiosity. The woman wants sex with a space traveler and the man wants interesting conversation. Neither wants to colonize another planet.

As often, in other and longer works, Anderson presents a thesis and an antithesis without a synthesis. The synthesis would be a world population both benefiting from automation and exploring the universe. Some intelligences, whether organic or artificial, would have to remain alert to potential dangers like technological breakdowns, depleted resources, cometary strikes, hostile returning spacecraft, unforeseen side effects of technology, social stagnation etc. It would be possible to seek out new worlds not for survival but for knowledge. For me, this, not "Arcady," would be the real utopia.

(Having just traveled with Poul Anderson from the deepest vault of an ancient library in an alternative Jerusalem to a future high tech civilization with interstellar travel, I feel a little dizzy.)

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

In STARFARERS and the Kith stories we do see how "rapid" socio/political change on Earth and the existence of a STL culture which experiences time much more slowly due to relativistic time dilation affects each other.