Like Stars, Like Dust by Issac Asimov
One of the lesser known works for the grandmaster himself, Issac Asimov.
One the reasons that he was so good, one of the few to rightfully be called a grandmaster of science fiction in fact, is that he knew his history.
I don’t just mean he knew names and dates, I mean he understood the hows and why’s. Nowhere is this more apparent then in this book.
In the book the Tyranni are an empire of fifty worlds, between one and two generations before they left their world and over the course of decades conquered the worlds in the nebular cluster. The thing that is striking is how well they are thought out, they ran an empire that was more then large enough to crush them if given half a chance. They did this by sticking to a few simple rules:
1) The government of any state should be left intact, with as little changed as possible. The Tyranni might for example pick the next king, but it would be the son of the old one.
2) The sciences and economies of the planets were locked in place, this meant they ranged from farmers to barely industrial.
3) Military strength was limited.
4) Taxes were paid.
They turned their empire into a machine for enriching their home world. One thing you see too often in science fiction is large empires that would cost so much to maintain they would be a money sink, this is not that.
While the characters could be more three dimensional I do think it showed well how people who were born to be upper class and to be rulers would act. It also showed people acting intelligently and it has an ending that you will not see coming.
If you do like sci-fi mystery you will like this book.
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One problem you see more often then not in any science fiction with a lot of alien races is that all members of a race can be described in the same way.
For example “Klingons are warriors” then show literally all Klingons as warriors. The thing is that can’t be true, for any number of reasons.
A large part of why this is done is practical, even with a novel to work with you would be hard pressed to describe even passingly every society on earth.
That said, you should not just throw up your hands and give up, there are things that can be done. The first is to establish that there are exceptions. Show a Klingon shop keeper, or describe a store that would not exist if the only people who were in town were warriors. If half of all Klingons are warriors then that should have great effects on their culture and society but it can’t be the only thing they are. In the least you can show occasional exceptions to the rule.
Just a little time and effort can make a race go from “The warrior race” to something more, and it gives you something to build from. If you established who Klingons are, then you meet a renowned Klingon scientists you suddenly have an interesting hook for a character. Half the reason to use stereotypes is to defy them after all.
There are several things that are often shown when a writer shows a utopian future, several things that sound good but just don’t work.
The first is population. Often you see the earth with a much lower population. Humans are like water, we tend to fill any container we are in. Once you start to eliminate the reasons for having small number of kids a great many people will start to have more.
The main limiting factors for how many kids people have are time and money. If your in a future where the money needed to support you and your family takes little time to get then you would have as large of a family as you want.
If even things like daycare are cheap then I would think you would start to see larger families, not smaller ones.
The second is lack of crime. While true, if poverty was a thing of the past crime would plummet, but it will never go away. You will always have people looking for a thrill, or who would rather steal then earn luxuries.
Third is money. I know I have said it before, but I can’t see any way for humans to live without some form of money. Every time I see a plan for it it’s either just another name for money.
For this week I am going to do something a little different, I am going to talk about books that explore a theme that is almost never covered in science fiction, the afterlife. And I do not mean uploading your mind or something, I mean that your soul is real and it goes somewhere when you die. I have only read a few science fictions that deal with the idea.
The first is the most recent, the Reality Dysfunction trilogy by Peter Hamilton (One of my favorite modern authors).
It’s a space opera in the grandest tradition of the genre, with a large confederation of human worlds with only a few known aliens races. On a new colony world an energy being sees a human die and the path his soul takes, and in so doing accidentally opens a bridge from there to the here and now.
Out come the first souls, all near insane with sensory deprivation and wanting to make a war on the living, wanting to keep their bodies at all costs. They can allow other dead to take their bodies, you get one of them on your planet you could have hundreds the next day, thousand after that.
It handled the idea well and was able to weave all the various plot elements and themes together, much better then I would have thought possible if I was told the basic idea of the book before I read it.
The sign of true art is the ability to make very hard things look very easy, this series does that.
The second is the Riverword series by Farmer.
The basic idea is that everyone who died after the age of five and before 1984 (or somewhere around there) wakes up all at once along the banks of a river all at the same time. This river is bound by mountains and runs in a helix from one pole of a planet to another.
If you die once there your reborn somewhere else along the river.
The book does explain the hows and whys but the series is a good example of what I call exportation scifi.
The series is a classic, with a really unique idea.
The third example that I have read is Traitor to the Living also by Farmer.
This is a much darker book then the Riverworld series. It starts with the idea that someone invented a device that allows you to see into the afterlife, but that its hell and everyone is there. I would like to say it gets happier from that, but it really does not. Still it is thought provoking and takes another look at the idea.