Five Planets In Search Of A Sci-Fi Story

Gamma An­dromeda, where philo­soph­i­cal sto­icism went too far. Its in­hab­itants, tired of the rol­ler coaster ride of daily ex­is­tence, de­cided to learn equa­nim­ity in the face of gain or mis­for­tune, nei­ther dread­ing dis­aster nor tak­ing joy in suc­cess.

But that turned out to be re­ally hard, so in­stead they just hacked it. When­ever some­thing good hap­pens, the Gam­man­dromedans give them­selves an elec­tric shock pro­por­tional in strength to its good­ness. When­ever some­thing bad hap­pens, the Gam­man­dromedans take an opi­ate-like drug that di­rectly stim­u­lates the plea­sure cen­ters of their brain, in a dose pro­por­tional in strength to its bad­ness.

As a re­sult, ev­ery day on Gamma An­dromeda is equally good com­pared to ev­ery other day, and its in­hab­itants need not be jos­tled about by fear or hope for the fu­ture.

This does sort of screw up their in­cen­tives to make good things hap­pen, but luck­ily they’re all virtue ethi­cists.

Zyzzx Prime, in­hab­ited by an alien race de­scended from a bar­na­cle-like crea­ture. Bar­na­cles are fa­mous for their two stage life-cy­cle: in the first, they are mo­bile and cu­ri­ous crea­tures, clev­erly pick­ing out the best spot to make their home. In the sec­ond, they root them­selves to the spot and, hav­ing no fur­ther use for their brain, eat it.

This par­tic­u­lar alien race has evolved far be­yond that point and does not liter­ally eat its brain. How­ever, once an alien reaches suffi­ciently high so­cial sta­tus, it re­leases a se­ries of hor­mones that tell its brain, es­sen­tially, that it is now in a safe place and doesn’t have to waste so much en­ergy on thought and cre­ativity to get ahead. As a re­sult, its men­tal acu­ity drops two or three stan­dard de­vi­a­tions.

The Zyz­zx­i­ans’ so­ciety is marked by a se­ries of ex­per­i­ments with gov­ern­ment – monar­chy, democ­racy, dic­ta­tor­ship – only to dis­cover that, whether cho­sen by suc­ces­sion, elec­tion, or ruth­less con­quest, its once brilli­ant lead­ers lose their ge­nius im­me­di­ately upon ac­ces­sion and do a ter­rible job. Their gov­ern­ment is thus marked by a se­ries of per­pet­ual pointless rev­olu­tions.

At one point, a sci­en­tific effort was launched to dis­cover the hor­mones re­spon­si­ble and whether it was pos­si­ble to block them. Un­for­tu­nately, any sci­en­tist who showed promise soon lost their ge­nius, and those pro­moted to be heads of re­search in­sti­tutes be­came stum­bling blocks who mis­man­aged funds and held back their less pres­ti­gious co-work­ers. Sugges­tions that the in­sti­tutes elimi­nate tenure were ve­toed by top offi­cials, who said that “such a dras­tic step seems un­nec­es­sary”.

K’th’ranga V, which has been a global theoc­racy for thou­sands of years, ever since its dom­i­nant race in­vented agri­cul­tural civ­i­liza­tion. This worked out pretty well for a while, un­til it reached an age of in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion, global­iza­tion, and sci­en­tific dis­cov­ery. Scien­tists be­gan to un­cover truths that con­tra­dicted the Sa­cred Scrip­tures, and the hec­tic pace of mod­ern life made the shep­herds-and-desert-traders set­ting of the holy sto­ries look vaguely silly. Worse, the cold logic of cap­i­tal­ism and util­i­tar­i­anism be­gan to in­vade the Scrip­tures’ in­no­cent Stone Age moral­ity.

The priest-kings tried to turn back the tide of progress, but soon re­al­ized this was a los­ing game. Worse, in or­der to de­ter­mine what to sup­press, they them­selves had to learn the dan­ger­ous in­for­ma­tion, and their men­tal pu­rity was even more valuable than that of the pop­u­lace at large.

So the priest-kings moved en masse to a big is­land, where they be­gan liv­ing an old-timey Bronze Age lifestyle. And the world they ruled sent emis­saries to the is­land, who in­ter­faced with the priest-kings, and sought their guidance, and the priest-kings ruled a world they didn’t un­der­stand as best they could.

But it soon be­came clear that the sys­tem could not sus­tain it­self in­definitely. For one thing, the priest-kings wor­ried that dis­cus­sion with the emis­saries – who in­evitably wanted to talk about strange things like bud­gets and in­ter­est rates and nu­clear ar­ma­ments – was con­tam­i­nat­ing their memetic pu­rity. For an­other thing, they hon­estly couldn’t un­der­stand what the emis­saries were talk­ing about half the time.

Luck­ily, there was a whole chain of is­lands mak­ing an archipelago. So the priest-kings set up ten tran­si­tional so­cieties – them­selves in the Bronze Age, an­other in the Iron Age, an­other in the Clas­si­cal Age, and so on to the main­land, who by this point were start­ing to ex­per­i­ment with nan­otech. Main­land so­ciety brought its de­ci­sions to the first is­land, who trans­lated it into their own slightly-less-ad­vanced un­der­stand­ing, who brought it to the sec­ond is­land, and so on to the priest-kings, by which point a dis­cus­sion about global warm­ing might sound like whether we should pro­pi­ti­ate the Coal Spirit. The priest-kings would send their de­ci­sions to the sec­ond-to-last is­land, and so on back to the main­land.

Even­tu­ally the Kth’ built an AI which achieved su­per­in­tel­li­gence and set out to con­quer the uni­verse. But it was a well-pro­grammed su­per­in­tel­li­gence coded with Kth’ val­ues. When­ever it wanted a high-level de­ci­sion made, it would talk to a slightly less pow­er­ful su­per­in­tel­li­gence, who would talk to a slightly less pow­er­ful su­per­in­tel­li­gence, who would talk to the main­lan­ders, who would talk to the first is­land…

Chan X-3, no­table for a na­tive species that evolved as fit­ness-max­i­miz­ers, not adap­ta­tion-ex­ecu­tors. Their ex­plicit goal is to max­i­mize the num­ber of copies of their genes. But what­ever ge­netic pro­gram they are ex­e­cut­ing doesn’t care whether the genes are within a liv­ing be­ing ca­pa­ble of ex­press­ing them or not. The planet is cov­ered with gi­ant vats full of frozen DNA. There was origi­nally some worry that the species would go ex­tinct, since hav­ing chil­dren would con­sume re­sources that could be used hiring ge­net­i­cists to make mil­lions of copies of your DNA and stores them in freez­ers. Luck­ily, it was re­al­ized that chil­dren not only provide a use­ful way to con­tinue the work of copy­ing and stor­ing (half of) your DNA long into the fu­ture, but will also work to guard your already-stored DNA against be­ing de­stroyed. The species has thus con­tinued undiminished, some­how, and their fon­d­est hope is to colonize space and reach the frozen Kuiper Belt ob­jects where their DNA will nat­u­rally stay un­de­graded for all time.

New Capri­corn, which con­tains a pre­vi­ously undis­cov­ered hu­man colony that has achieved a re­search break­through be­yond their wildest hopes. A multi-cen­tury effort paid off in a fully gen­eral cure for death. How­ever, the drug fails to stop ag­ing. Although the Capri­cor­nis no longer need fear the grave, af­ter age 100 or so even the hardiest of them get Alzheimers’ or other similar con­di­tions. A hun­dred years af­ter the break­through, more than half of the pop­u­la­tion is el­derly and de­mented. Two hun­dred years af­ter, more than 80% are. Capri­corni nurs­ing homes quickly be­came over­crowded and un­pleas­ant, to the dis­may of cit­i­zens ex­pect­ing to spend eter­nity there.

So an­other re­search pro­gram was started, and the re­sult were fully im­mer­sive, fully life-sup­port­ing vir­tual re­al­ity cap­sules. Stacked in huge ware­houses by the mil­lions, the el­derly sit in their vir­tual wor­lds, vague sunny fields and old gabled houses where it is always the Good Old Days and their grand­chil­dren are always vis­it­ing.