Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A Thought Experiment

Let's say that you are the cynical and secretive human interstellar government of a few hundred years hence. (Not too much of a stretch, yes?) You're not actively evil, but you're perfectly willing to do nasty things (or, though inaction, allow nasty things to happen). You're also in a state of war, and have been for some time.

What you need to do now is to plan a secret colony. For some handwave-y reason, hollowed-out asteroids, other kinds of space-based habitats, or anything involving non-Earthlike worlds is out. It has to be a shirtsleeve, dirt-farming colony, as God and Robert A. Heinlein intended.

Now, for good and sufficient reasons, you need to equip this colony with a lower tech level than they're used to. You can either pick an 1850 level, or a 1970 level. Other than pure "screw with the colonists" reasons, can you think of a reason not to pick the 1970 level? (They'd be, as far as I can see, of about equal difficulty, since all of the items in each package would have to be created from scratch in either case.)

7 comments:

diana said...

Sure, lots of reasons. Like you want to return to "the good old days" before things were corrupted. You could want to better contain the colonists and their population growth. You could want to occupy them so much with survival that they can't start doing stuff like building bombs and so forth. You could want to conduct a social experiment so that you could understand what a colony needs--because these aren't the *real* colonists but are the first experiment to see if whatever they are up to works.

I'll stop babbling on now.

Di

Johan Larson said...

Colony size. The more advanced the tech base, to larger and more elaborate the industries required to produce the goods. These more advanced industries need a greater variety of skills and have higher fixed costs, and hence require larger pools of workers and consumers.

This is one point I think Stirling got right in the ISOT universe. The Nantucketers simply couldn't maintain the twentieth-century lifestyle they came from; there weren't enough of them for it.

Johan Larson said...

Ooh, I thought of one more: you don't want the colonists to leave. If you give them 1970s technology, they might be able to fashion spacecraft (assuming, for the moment, that getting into merely interplanetary space would be enough (I don't know, maybe there's a wormhole only a few AU away)). Not much chance of that with an 1850s tech base.

James Nicoll said...

People with 1970s tech can build radio telescopes that can broadcast to a fair part of the galaxy. People with 1850s tech cannot.

Jess Nevins said...

Less prospect for irreparable environmental damage with circa 1850 technology.

James said...

Please tell me this isn't Scalzi's new book...

Andrew Wheeler said...

James: Well, I don't want to lie, so let's just pretend I didn't say anything.

(I posted this after slightly misreading something early in that book; the tech level involved was not clearly 1850ish, as I'd thought -- Scalzi leaves the details vague, since that's not important to the story.)

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