Monday, December 6, 2010

The Black Desert Timeline

          It's Monday again, RocketFans, and I thought I would start off the week with a little background on the game I have been talking about for the last...well, since I started this blog.

          What follows is a draft of the time line for The Black Desert.  This part of the game has been in development for over two years now, and is still a work in progress.  I have borrowed shamelessly from real history, the writings of various futurists, technical commentaries, and advice of other fans of the genre.  The majority of the material, of course, comes my my own sick and twisted imagination.

          Through visiting forums and chatting with other fans and reading SF Blogs and all that good web-enabled goodness, I  have stumbled upon what may be the central dividing line between Soft and Hard SF:

           Soft Science Fiction tries to make technology fit the imagination, and Hard Science Fiction tries to imagine what fits the technology.

Granted, this is a flagrant and shameless generalization, but it kind of goes straight to the core of the issue.  In The Black Desert, I began with certain imagined ideas of what I would like to see; terrraformed Mars, cheap, SSTO, prevalent space travel, yada yada.  Then I did research to to see if my ideas were possible, plausible and likely.  Then I went back to the imagined setting and modified it to fit the data.  Then, as I alluded to in a previous post, I went back and changed things fairly radically from my original picture to account for the logical consequences of my actions.  This proccess basically repeats until either you get a reasonably plausible Future History, or you logic yourself out of a setting.  Part of the commitment to writing Hard SF, whether games or novels or stories, is to know when you can't plausably use a plot.  I know that most people adhere to the axiom that Plot Trumps Reality, but I must disagree.  Plots are a dime a dozen and let's face it; they've all been used before.  I believe that it is not only possible but easier to tell good, human stories and to give meaningful social commentary on the present by avoiding Space Opera tropes and hand-waved plot devices that compromise the audiences' suspension of disbelief.

           But that's just me.

           Besides, you didn't click on my link to read a preachy manifesto on Hard SF,did you?  I'll bet you wanna see robots and spaceships and cool future stuff, right? So, without further ado...

The Twenty-First Century
           The first hundred years of the new millennium were marked by both extreme growth and extreme stagnation. The United States dropped out of the space race early, relying on the development of private aerospace. Russia, China, India and Japan began aggressive programs to develop both commercial and exploratory craft, culminating in Lunar landings by the mid century. The US tried to catch up while China and a joint team of other space faring nations, Including the European Union, set up separate bases on the Moon to harvest Helium-3; The rare isotope that makes stable fusion rectors possible. With Fusion powered drives, the nations of Eurasia go on to Mars. Japan and America lead the world in robotics, with the East concentrating on form, the West on function.
Back on Earth, a quiet revolution was brewing that would eventually lead to the greatest upheaval in human history. Fabrication machines, using bio-plastics that were introduced at the start of the century, become ubiquitous. The ability to use free or very cheap templates downloaded from the Internet allow people all over the world to not only manufacture their own goods, but to manufacture the fabricators themselves. The standard of living rises while the economy slows down.
           Medical science succeeds in developing stem cell research into useful therapies. Custom grown organs make diabetes, cirrhosis, and most cancers a thing of the past by 2040...for those that could afford them. The developing world gets little benefit from this until the end of the century. Even more infuriating is the isolation of the so-called “aging-gene”, allowing the decadent westerners to live into their 130's and their children to live into their 200's.

           The United States begins an ambitious plan to build a Space Elevator in Equador while the rest of the space traveling world concentrate on terraforming Mars. The Brazilian government sponsors research into laser propulsion and begins quietly wooing American scientists and aerospace engineers with grants and other incentives. By the middle of the century, Mars is a thriving colony, Asteroids have been pulled into orbits between Earth and Luna and Earth and Mars. The Destiny Foundation, one of the US's most active space concerns, open colonization to these moonlets to everyone with their ambitious and successful business plan. America's economy receives a shot in the arm from the influx of resources.
           The resources are put to good use as fabricators spread throughout the world. Consumers become able to make their own electronics and synthetic textiles. Businesses in these markets respond with copyrights on templates and aggressive lobbying to make open source design illegal. World economics continue its upheaval as resource-rich developing nations are now able to make their own manufactured goods. The industrialized world scrambles further into space to find new sources of raw material as brush wars over conflict materials increase exponentially.
           Medicine branches out into further developing gene therapies and simultaneously increasing the reliability of man/machine interface. Cybernetics steps out of science fiction and becomes viable as birth defects are eliminated in the West. Americans embrace the “designer baby” fad and successive generations will be healthier, longer lived, more intelligent and more beautiful that any in history.
The most significant advance made in this period is in computers. The invention of the Quantum Orchestrative Objective Reduction (QOOR) Processor creates the first true artificial intelligence. These sentient computers are surprisingly “human” because of the use of advanced neuroscience as a model. The AI are installed in virtually every piece of military hardware and public service by mid-century.
Even the advent of AI is less amazing than the discovery of titanic vaults below the floor of the Valles Marinaris on Mars. Within, undetectable by any previous probes or expeditions, was life. An entire ecosystem thrived in the caverns of Mars including, miraculously, intelligent life. Martians existed.
January 29th, 2152: The Great Space War
           To say that the Great Space War was the largest and most deadly conflict in history is hopelessly inadequate. Half of the human race perished, not a single nation that existed before the war existed after, and half of humanity's five hundred-odd colonies were either destroyed or isolated afterward. No less than three new intelligent species were created; two of which are now considered to be potentially capable of causing the extinction of biological life. Every sentient currently alive is either a veteran or the child of a veteran of the Great Space War. Worst of all, it is unknown if Terra's ecosystem will recover, despite the collective knowledge and resources of all humanity attempting to save it.
The war began shortly after the Space Elevator was completed in 2151. Brazil, emboldened by its new space technology and America's economic weakness, invaded Equador. The nation capitulated and became a state along with Brazil in the newly created South American Union. In response, The US began a vicious land and sea based war with new state. Brazil responded by revealing the fruits of its investments in space: The L-Drive, which put rockets into orbit without using fuel, and the Plasma Sail, a magnetic field that used solar wind to achieve constant boost. The remaining world powers are terrified as the United States loses its colonies one by one and is decimated by sub-orbital attack.
Espionage and reverse engineering soon reveal the secrets of Brazil's war machine, and the rest of the world arms itself. Most space conflicts end in stalemate as the magnetic drives prove to be shields against not only cosmic rays, but lasers, metal projectiles, and nuclear warheads. Kinetic Kill Drones become the weapon of choice and their AI pilots are destroyed in droves only to be replaced by backups on Earth.
           Advances in man/machine interface with AI allow humans to be replaced by clones with all of their memories. This is rare for American and Japanese soldiers as most of the fighting done by their armies is with robots controlled by advanced telepreasence. Civilian populations bear the brunt of the casualties in the early years of the War.
           Two years into the conflict, It is discovered that AI reincarnation results in a unique consciousness- meaning that AIs actually die. This leads to Intelligent machines from all nations deserting in what is known as The Turing Fallacy Revolt. They are given sanctuary on Mars and the Red Planet declares its neutrality, effectively leaving the War.
           Terran governments scramble to replace the massive losses to their forces even as resources dwindle. “Civilian” rapidly becomes an obsolete word as entire populations are conscripted into the conflict. The Russians bolster their forces by the ethically questionable means of using QOOR technology to grant sentience to cloned gorillas and orangutans. These “Nu-Apes” even the field against the combat robots of other nations.
           The war continues in this fashion, with no clear possibility of winning for any faction, for the next two decades. The only major change is the European Union's successful campaign to conquer most of Africa for its resources, while Asia and the Americas are locked in a downward spiral of annihilation. This move by the EU virtually assures that a clear victory for any faction is impossible.
The war may have continued indefinitely if it weren't for the horrible, final solution of atomic attack. It is still unknown which of Terra's twenty-five nuclear powers fired the first missile, but the result was inevitable. Heat storms, fallout, and flooding from the loss of the polar ice sheets effectively ended the war...and half of all life on the planet.
           Thanks to magnetic radiation shielding, enough Infrastructure remained to prevent the total collapse of civilization. Nevertheless, it took a generation before the people left on Earth could think of anything but survival.
           Terra might not have survived the holocaust, if it weren't for the fact, sometime during the war, the Trans-human Singularity had occurred. Humanity had the technology to save itself, by using artificial ecology techniques and terraforming strategies on Terra herself. Humans in disaster areas were uploaded into massive computers and lived virtual lives until the world could sustain them. These “cyber-morgues” became the first bastions of the new Trans-humanity.
           It was also during this time that experiments in Nano-life- recreating bodies and consciousness using nano techniques- were attempted. This was too successful; Nano sapiens was a cure worse than the disease. It took the concerted effort of all of the world's remaining military to fight it off. This could have led to a united Terra...but didn't. Nano sapiens also led to a “anti-Trans-human” sentiment among mainline humanity. The majority of the cyder-morgue population chose to leave Terra and become what would eventually be called the Dyson Federation.
           Meanwhile Mars, out of contact with her war-torn sister for decades, emerged on the scene. The AI/Martian expedition was not there to conquer, however. Mars was a terraformed enough to support Terran life on the surface, and the Consensus, its new government, offered to mediate a final end to the Space War conflict. Political boundaries were redrawn again and again over the next five years as the leaders of the Earth struggled to make their world stable and, hopefully, habitable. The final draft of the Treaty of Mars, signed New Year's Day 2206, offered little in the way of satisfaction for the embittered veterans- essentially the entire population- but it was fair in a way only the combined power of multiple quantum computers could make it. There was finally a chance for lasting peace.
         But only a chance.
           The Treaty of Mars has been in effect for four years. On Terra, there are three modern superpowers: The Union of the Americas, The Siberian Empire of Japan, and The Parliament of Africa and Europe.
           The remains of the United States and Canada are divided into Pacifica on the West coast and The United American and Canadian States in The East. The American Middle West is now part of The Brazil's Union of the Americas, and is ruled by a council of allied Native American tribes.
           Luna is recovering from the ravages of war. Her surface is covered with both abandoned and active military bases from the Big Three and independent or corporate gas mines. The situation is tense as the different interests spread to find the remaining pockets of Helium-3.
           Mars is becoming the new center of culture and learning in the system. Its freshly terraformed shores are open to any sentient willing to sign the Articles of Consensus, and follow their strict rules of conduct.
         The Dysonites, Trans-Humans so-called due to their creation of a Dyson Swarm in orbit around Venus, are a frighteningly unknown factor. They not only threaten to eventually block the Sunward passage for interplanetary travel, they are in a prime position to assert sovereignty over Mercury, the richest source of metals and Helium-3 in the entire Solar System. With access to these resources, the Dysonites endless Trans-Human missionaries will prove very hard to stop if it comes to a showdown.
           The cycling asteroid colonies, which outside of Terran orbit were the most common and rich settlements before the war, have become a disorganized and isolated collection of nodes containing anything from thriving cities, starving ghost towns, pirate dens, nano-swarms, or even space fleets that don't know (or care) the war is over. Political and corporate interests from all over the system are sending expeditions to the colonies in an attempt to reestablish the flow of resources and get the Solar economy started again.
           This vast, unknown territory is full of more opportunity-and more danger- than the rest of the Inner System combined. The aboriginal Martians have a name for this area of space that caught on with the romantic writers and artists of human Mars and through their work, the rest of humanity.
           They call it The Black Desert.

          Questions, comments, criticisms?  Feel free to comment below.  And as always, follow us on Twitter and Facebook to keep abreast of the fun.

1 comment:

  1. Some discussions of the timeline can be found here:


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