Friday, February 9, 2024

A Sci-Fi Setting Idea

My recent readings in science fiction and musings on Star Frontiers have given me an idea for a science fiction setting combining some thoughts I've had stemming from both.

The basic idea involves a future Earth controlled by benevolent AI that is something those presented in the novelization to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Stross' Accelerando and a little like Watts' Blindsight. Most people are enmeshed in digital simulations to various degrees and have little, direct human contact. They're content to let the AIs run things. More individualistic, conservative elements of human society, still interested in physical experiences and challenges, have moved to the outer Solar System.

When a wormhole gateway left by a previous intelligent culture is discovered in the Solar System, the AI guides of the human race see the perfect way to channel the more erratic humans of the outer system: they open up the Frontier.

Exactly where in the galaxy (or perhaps the universe) the Frontier is located is unclear, but it's far from Sol. In a relatively small area of space compared to Sol's local environment, it has a number of human habitable worlds--and a few technologically advanced alien species.

Megacorporations are allowed to guide settlement of the region. Both the settlers and the AI on Earth ironically agree that a new society replicating the one on Earth shouldn't be created on the Frontier. To this end, technology is limited and controlled, policed by the Institute. This gives the Frontier a somewhat retro, "cassette futurism"-tinged vibe.

Eventually, the Frontier develops away from corporate rule, but after the unexplained collapse of the wormwhole back to Sol, there is war, and then an economic depression that paves the way for a corporate bailout and a re-establishment of central government via a "special-purpose district." The megacorporations promise to re-establish full representative democratic rule in time for the bicentennial celebration of human arrival on the Frontier. 


Dick McGee said...

"To this end, technology is limited and controlled, policed by the Institute."

That element sounds very much like the Institute in Jack Vance's Demon Princes books. Deliberate throttling of scientific advancement in the name of preventing humanity from proceeding down paths that will leave it unrecognizable in the long run, all done by a secretive bunch of self-righteous elitists without public knowledge or oversight. "It's for your own good" is pretty much their sole justification or explanation. Really quite sinister, and arguably more awful than any of the titular criminals.

The rest of it does sound like a good way to establish a Sar Frontiers-style isolated frontier zone, which the game itself doesn't do a great job of. Alternity's Verge was also a decent attempt at something similar, with a distant frontier zone that became isolated by a major interstellar war and is only now making recontact with the major powers that started settling the region.

The collapsing wormhole has echoes of Eve Online, although that setting has been settled and recovering from isolation for thousands of years and is much bigger in scope than either the SF Frontier or Alt's Verge.

Trey said...

The Demon Princes was definitely the source of the Institute.

You're right about SF. This was conceived as a way to address that deficit.

bombasticus said...

This resonates really nicely with the old White Wolf vaporware game EXILE as well as Star Frontiers type things. I like the way it updates both and encourage you to write up a full pitch document.

The "aliens" are a great maguffin here because it would be tempting for alert characters to wonder whether these outrageous sophonts coincidentally evolved on their own or were assembled in some kind of "creature workshop" . . . any sufficiently sophisticated AI puppet is indistinguishable from nature. But once you're poking that deep, there's no difference between life on the rim and a really good digital simulation.

Blue sky on Mars! That's new!

Trey said...

Exile (what tidbits there are) sounds interesting, particularly when viewed through the 90s lens that surely would have been applied. I had never heard of it!

Good point on the aliens. I hadn't given them too much thought, but what you suggest points to some neat solutions regarding problems with their inclusion.

bombasticus said...

I encourage the full pitch. Maybe it ends up something closer to a Ringworld refresh than Star Frontiers, who can say?

EXILE should have been revolutionary. Could still be but now it's already retro as you say.

Trey said...

I find (and to the extent possible) try to put in place or at least suggest levels of interaction with settings. So, Azurth (for instance) can be a locale for Ozian/cartoonish D&D or one could gather the clues sprinkled here and there and transform it to something darker and more "metaplot-y" or one can spot my various references and (hopefully) admire the various ways the different patches are quilted together.

Something like this would ideally work similarly, though obviously with different ingredients and flavors.

bombasticus said...

Love it. Kind of a model home showing all the possible options, or like how Google used to manufacture its own phone to set the standard for Android flavors.