Category Archives: Future History

Flag of the Federated Nations

The Federated Nations – successor to the United Nations – use this flag:

To be fair, I just threw something together; I did not really assign any meaning to the symbols. I did want to remove some of the clutter from the globe, and I think that works nicely. I also prefer a deep blue to the old UN light blue, it’s a nicer, fuller color this way, giving the flag more “presence”.

But if anybody has a good suggestion on what the stars could stand for – let me know. I thought about continents, or planets in the solar system – I could change the number of stars after all – but neither sounds overly compelling.

FTL Drive: Questions Answered

Good morning and welcome to Global News.

With the return of our first interstellar FTL probes to the Sol System, and the discovery of several worlds suitable to colonization, Space Fever is gripping Earth. According to statistics, the volunteer rate for off-planet emigration has jumped by some 17,000 percent. Seven-teen-thousand. This number alone proves that the public now firmly sees the future of the human race among the stars.

With me is Mr. John Jones of the Colonial Authority, and we will be discussing some questions our viewers have been asking us lately. Mr. Jones, thank you for joining us.

Jones: It’s my pleasure.

Host: Mr Jones, can you give us a quick rundown of what projects we can expect as our next steps into space?

Jones: Certainly. As you know, we are about to launch our first manned expedition to Alpha Centauri in August. The ship was just christened three days ago. The Columbia was named after command module of the Apollo 11 mission – the first spaceship to carry humans that would land on another celestial body.

Host: Some say that this name is unfairly nationalistic considering the mission is clearly an international effort, and run by the Colonial Authority.

Jones: The name for the ship was chosen exclusively for historic significance, but Columbia is not just the personification of the United States, it stands for all of the Americas. However, let me add a personal remark. The United States carried 40% of the Authority’s budget until recently, and funded the Hyperdrive project almost exclusively until we worked out a first prototype. Without this money, we probably would not have a hyperdrive now. I think that is something to be thankful for, and thus playing politics with the naming of a spaceship should really not be our concern as we look into that bright future ahead of us.

Host: Indeed, indeed. The hyperdrive is based on whole new physics and allows us to travel faster than the speed of light, something most people didn’t think was actually possible. In layman’s terms, could you give us an overview of how that works?

Jones: It’s actually based on theories we had for over two hundred years. Back in the late 20th Century, physicists working in Cosmology came up with something called String Theory. To work, they needed to assume that there were 10 dimensions; nine spatial plus time. Eventually, they discovered that an 11th dimension was needed to make the theory work. This became known as Edward Witten’s M-Theory. What is most relevant for our purposes is that it assumes an 11-dimensions multiverse.

It is impossible for us to ever travel to any of those other universes that we know exist. They have radically different laws of nature, and even if we could travel there we’d instantly cease to exist. But what we can do, and use the hyperdrive for, is to slip in between those universes – basically travel through the structure of the multiverse itself in a bubble of spacetime with our own physical laws.

Host: So instead of going to an alternate universe, we stop half-way there?

Jones: Precisely. We do not actually travel faster than light. We cheat – we take a shortcut. And there’s another thing: Accelerating a mass to the speed of light takes a large amount of energy. Because we cheat, we get away expending much less energy – and no reaction mass at all. This is probably even more significant than breaking the light barrier. It also enables us to efficiently travel inside a system, within certain limits.

Host: What limits are those?

Jones: You can’t get too close to a gravity well within Hyperspace. Roughly, gravity leaks out of our universe and into the multiverse – it’s the reason gravity is so weak, much of its energy gets “lost” outside our universe. If your ship smashes into a gravity well of sufficient strength, it gets ripped apart. So you still have to travel conventionally to approach a planet, but you get to avoid the months and months of travel in between.

Host: How fast and far can a ship travel with Hyperdrive propulsion?

Jones: Speed depends on local gravity, so it’s slower in a system than interstellar space. Currently, state-of-the art technology logs thirty days to the light year – twelve times light speed. So a trip to Alpha Centauri takes over four months.

Host: Long trip.

Jones: Long trip, but that used to get us to Mars. And it took Columbus a month to get to the New World. Even so, the technology will mature. Current predictions say that 100 times light speed is feasible. That would cut that same trip down to three weeks. And that’s probably not the end to it. The real limit seems to be distance.

Host: Distance?

Jones: Distance. This is one aspect of hyperdrive technology we do not understand, but experiments have showed that there is a hard limit of 7.7 light years that a ship can travel in hyperspace. A charge builds up on the drive coils, and at 7.7 light years it begins to break down the coils into subatomic particles – you can imagine that this unleashes enough energy to rip the ship apart. Unfortunately, we can’t get rid of that charge except in a gravity well. We really do not understand why this happens, it’s a property of Hyperspace the theories do not predict. So you see how young that field really is.

Host: Surely we can work that out eventually.

Jones: Naturally, we always do. In the meantime it means a ship can only travel to another star system if it’s within 7.7 light years of the ship’s current position, because it needs a gravity well at the destination. Until we find a solution to that problem this organizes space into “lanes” or “arms”, and it means some systems will be cut off forever for us.

Host: So how far can we go?

Jones: We do not have very reliable star data for great distances. We can definitely get out of a 100 light year radius at several points, so it’s likely we’ll be able to access most of the Milky Way, even if we can’t visit all systems. A trip outside that 100 light years sphere is going to take decades at current travel speeds, so we have a lot of time to improve our drive technology and hyperdrive theory.

Host: Thank you Mr Jones. We will take a break here and return later, when we continue our interview with John Jones of the Colonial Authority to talk about the near future of interstellar colonialism and about the renewed interest in SETI.

Earth in 2174: Active Conflicts

Here’s a bonus map for Earth in the year 2174; Active conflicts.

Earth, 2174: Active ConflictsChina: The Vietnamese are opposing annexations, though the conflict has lost some of its severity. Xinjiang is resisting re-integration into the Chinese Empire; it’s the last hold-out from the Chinese civil war that ended the PRC.

Pakistan: After nearly a Century of peace, the Islamic Union has begun stirring up trouble in the rural areas, inciting tribal leaders to start a rebellion against central rule. Pakistan enjoys the full support of its closest ally, India, and observers expect this rebellion to be beaten down quickly.

Middle East: The Islamic Union is attempting to drive back the Russians, who still occupy part of Iran. It’s a long, drawn out conflict of asymetric warfare – the Russians view it more as a police action against terrorists than as a real war.

Africa: The Islamic Union continues its expansion slowly, but surely. Other African countries are coordinating their defenses and are in talks of settling the IU problem for good. The Andean Community, the EU, and the Chinese Empire are attempting to prevent an all-out African war.

South America: Bolivia and Chile are suffer from an unending series of border incidents; resentment still run deep on the Chilean side over the annexation of the corridor to the Pacific by Bolivia. Defense commitments by the other Andean Community partners discourage a Chilean attack, but it is an open secret that Chile is trying to rally other South American nations for an alliance against Bolivia.

Meanwhile, Colombia is attempting to negotiate a release of occupied territories that Colombia had to cede to Venezuela. Armed, pro-Colombia resistance, has committed a number of atrocities and hardened the Venezuelan stance, however, and no peaceful agreement seems possible.

Earth, 2174 – Final

The final version of the Earth 2174 map:

Earth 2174 - Final
Earth 2174 - Final

Took me way too long, and I still feel that especially the southern half of Africa needs some border changes – but it’ll do for now. Now I know what big nations exist in 2174, and that means I can proceed with what I am really after: Exploring other solar systems!

Earth, 2174 – WIP 1

The political landscape of the 22nd Century has changed considerably from what people took for granted in 2011.

I spent surprisingly long on this map so far, but then I did a good deal of research.

North America in 2174 - WIP 1
North America in 2174 - WIP 1

I am fairly happy with the style of this map so far. Of course there are no bells nor whistles, but that will come with time.

Future History: Earth Population and Resources

One of the important decisions I need to make is Earth’s population growth. In the past, many science fiction authors have assumed that it would grow quite large, sometimes to the point that people would be stacked four high to every square meter (you will recall Heinlein’s description of India in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress). Even though some of this is probably hyperbole, the description of Earth as a nightmare of crowds is all over the genre.

Of course, while current population estimates are much less dramatic, they still predict 9+ billion people. And if all of those people want to have a standard of living comparable to what we enjoy in Europe or North America, then we’re going to run into severe resource issues. Oil is the most popular example of something that can run out, and this would not only affect the economy because of increased fuel prices. Fertilizer is oil-based as well, and if food production doesn’t keep up with population growth, then a whole lot of those nine billion people are going to go hungry. And food being a basic need, that would trigger conflicts than not being able to drive one’s kids to school in a SUV surely wouldn’t.

Food and fertilizer, however, I am not quite so worried about. Anything that is organic basically just requires carbon, energy, and a bunch of other elements. Throw them together, mix them around, and you can create pretty much anything you want. It’s all a question of technical expertise and cost effectiveness. But that wealth that those nine billion people crave requires metals. Just take copper – we need it for pretty much everything that keeps our society going. What do we do when copper runs out?

The answer is, of course, that we will mine more. Humans are an inventive lot and when we are faced with a serious problem, then we solve it. It may be a painful process, but I am convinced that we will come out on top. There’s a lot of untapped copper – mostly in the depths of the oceans. Extracting it is expensive, but possible, and at some point when copper becomes scarce and expensive enough, companies will begin to mine it. Alternatively, there is an entire solar system out there that we can use for resources. Again, this simply requires improvements in technology and practice and a slightly more “favorable” economic climate.

So, for my Future History, I do not predict any breakdown of civilization based on resource shortages. I also don’t believe in a large-scale nuclear exchange (regional, that is a different matter). For population, I’ll follow something along the lines of the UN “medium” prediction:

The green line is, until 2300 AD, the UN “Medium” projection (after 2300, I extrapolated unscientifically). The blue line is my version, which of course I may change if the simulation of Earth’s history shows up anything unexpected.

For this baseline, my reasoning is that towards the end of the 21st Century, we will feel the effect of peak oil and other resource shortages coupled with the effects of global warming. Food will be expensive and there might even be some regional famines, and things we take for granted – for example, personal transportation, i.e. cars – will become unaffordable (or remain so) for a majority of the world’s population. It will be a while before technological fixes kick in. AIDS and antibiotic-immune diseases are also going to take a minor toll (minor when compared with the total world population).

Many countries will follow China’s “One Child” policy, except they are going to use economic incentives instead of penalties. If for example, instead of raising five kids and barely feeding them, a family could raise one kid and send it off to college so that he can have a much higher income than those five kids without the education will have combined, and if this means the difference between going hungry and being fed for the entire family, then people are going to catch on pretty quickly. And college-educated women tend to have much fewer children, and have them much later, than less educated women.

A decline by 2 billion in 100 years may be a bit drastic, but the basic premise, I feel, is sound.

Wold population will slowly recover as technology catches up and new resources become available again, but it will never peak again at previous levels. After a minor peak in the 25th Century, it will slowly fall into sustainable levels just under 8 billion.

Note that I do not think interstellar emigration will make any difference whatsoever during this time period. In a Space Opera type setting, where massive transportation capacity is available, it might; but at these “reasonable realistic” levels the birth rate is always going to outpace the capability to ship people off to other planets.


Future History – Let’s Get This Started

“Voyagers” was the working title for the first iteration of my science fiction setting. To differentiate the second attempt, the revision, I’ll call it Future History because my approach will be different: Instead of just arbitrarily making up stuff as I go along, I will attempt to “simulate” the future until I get to a large interstellar society.

Matters of Time…

Of course Voyagers had a worked out timeline too. In fact it was quite thorough – about 14000 words. The problem with the timeline was that I created it before the setting’s map was really done. As a consequence, none of the events outside the solar system really had a “sense of place”. This is especially a problem for the “near future” events, that is, the ones from the early years of human space exploration. Now that my map is fairly well worked out, I’d have to go back and retrofit the timeline. And there are certain problems with the map, too. I have no doubt I can make it work with relatively little effort, but I have the feeling I would be chasing consistency issues for a long time.

.. and of Space

Then there is another issue with the Voyagers setting. It covers way too much territory. There is absolutely no way I could ever hope to completely map a couple of billion cubic light years of space. About the only way to do that is to do what Traveller did: They basically compressed their universe into a flatland and split it up into a 1×1 parsec hex grid. The Voyagers map didn’t depict the z-Axis either but I have always been keenly aware that it was missing. When you map out galactic distances, that’s okay to an extent – the Milky Way is 100,000 light years across and its disc is only about 1000 light years thick. But when you combine it with space ships that can only travel a fraction of that 1000 light years distance in one trip, well, then you have to have your third dimension.

Compressing a Setting

After mulling these issues over, I decided that a viable approach might be to scale things down. Sure, I won’t quite have galaxy-spanning adventures, but do I really need to? The design goal for Voyagers had always been “reasonable realism” – that is, cutting corners only when necessary for the story. This is a science fiction setting rooted in H. Beam Piper and Robert A. Heinlein fiction – it’s not Star Wars.

So what kind of scale do I need, anyway, at the upper end?

  • According to the Wookiepedia, the Star Wars Empire had 1.5 million member worlds, and 69 million “colonies, protectorates and puppet states”. Assuming that this averages to one system each, 71 million star systems in total, this is the number of star systems you’d realistically find in a slice of the galactic disc 6000 light years across. Sure, not all of the star systems in that slice will be inhabited or even have planets, but it still illustrates the point: The Star Wars Galaxy is a pretty empty place.
  • Traveller’s Third Imperium and its 11,000 member worlds – all of which are one system in one hex each, as discussed above, theoretically fits into a sphere with a diameter of 200 light years or so.

What this means is that you can have – in theory – a lot of diversity in a fairly small volume of space. Some other science fiction settings I liked never used more than a dozen or two worlds. Larry Niven’s Known Space comes to mind; the Wikipedia article lists 22 worlds and that includes Earth, the Belt and even Kobold. I don’t think I was ever bored by that setting.

So in the end I can use a much smaller setting. To make space exploration more interesting, I always intended to put a limit on jump drive technology. In my prototyping of a map of near space, I assumed a limit of <9 light years per jump. I quickly found out that 2300 AD, GDW’s “hard” science fiction role-playing game, found a sweet spot with the limit they chose: 7.7 light-years. More than this, and there won’t be much of a tree-like structure to space travel; much less, and mankind won’t be getting very far: There is a choke-point between Ross 154 and Lacaille 8760 where a 7.36 light-year jump is needed. In the end, I decided to stick to the same 7.7 light year limit.

Outline of History

I am a firm believer in having a purpose to a setting, a concept, before building it. I don’t have to adhere to it if things just develop differently but I like to know where I am going.

The science fiction setting will have several “stages”:

  1. “Near Future” – Earth-bound science fiction
  2. Interplanetary exploration and colonization
  3. Interstellar colonization

These are fairly straight forward. Now, I have also need for a stage where not all colonies have access to the same technology, and where they are not all governed by a central government. It must be possible for “adventurers” to come to a star system and discover a human colony on one of the worlds, one that may not even remember Earth. Clearly, this requires for a lot of time to pass – and for some sort of breakdown of or at least lull in central control.

  1. Time of Earthside wars
  2. Recovery and unification

During the Earthside wars, the power blocs of Earth slug it out for some reason. The war spills over into space, of course, and to the colony worlds. A lot of them decide that getting involved is not only a bad idea, they also don’t really believe in the war. So they eitherjust continue with business as usual, or even declare themselves independent.

After the war, Earth finally gets its act together and unifies under one strong alliance – or perhaps the more powerful colony worlds even step in and enforce peace. Be that as it may, after the dust has settled Earth is in control of only a core set of colonies. The edges of human space have frayed away – the worlds there are now independent, and colonization of new worlds continues without central planning, control, or even approval. Human space expands outwards at an unknown rate.

This could form the springboard to an Interregnum, to continue with the almost axiomatic course of human space exploration, or perhaps Terra just becomes complacent – if some outer colonies can develop for a few centuries without interference, the Empire could arise and become powerful and eventually return to invade Terran space.

So now I have a rough plan. Time to get cracking – there’s a Galaxy to be colonized.