Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Social Stuctures in The Black Desert

         In the comments for our post on the crew requirements of the Missile Craft, I mentioned a group called the NuRom; the New Romani.  The NuRom are an example of a different kind of social stucture that could develop in space, one that takes into account the environment and the absolute necessity of cooperation between people in order to stay alive.

          The NuRom are one of the older ideas in development of The Black Desert.  They came originally from a desire to explore different societies that could grow out a human presence in space.  In a lot of early science fiction, especially the works of Robert A. Heinlein, you see a definate libertarian influence; the idea that the wide open spaces of the American frontier will be replaced with wide open space.  These older stories use space as a backdrop for the triumphs and sorrows of the pioneer, a place where rugged individualism has the freedom to grow.

          The problem with this is that it's wrong, by at least ten thousand to one.

          Space, as we've seen repeatedly in the last 60 years, is the last place for "rugged individuals".  The "rugged" is certainly a positive quality, but the "individual" is completely out.  Crews in space are picked for their ability to cooperate, work together as a team, and resist the urge to beat senseless their crew mates whose personal quirks have gone from cute to annoying to grounds for justifiable homicide.  The crotchety old codgers you see in Heinlein's fictions, who will lase trespassers and  simply want to be left alone, will not make it into space; and those that do will not survive in that most hostile of environments.  For more depressing information on why libertarianism is maladapted for space travel, you can visit Rick Robinson's Rocketpunk Manifesto here, here, and here.

         With the pioneer pretty much discredited in the circles of Hard SF (and my own circular logic - why send a man to do a robot's job?), we are left with the corporate and military models.  These two social structures seem on the surface to be adequate for space travel; they are cooperative (in the sense that workers and soldiers follow orders), stable, and rely offer a certain level of motivation to the populace, whether it be the illusory job security of a business or the inherent discipline of the military. 

          I have a couple of problems with both of these models.  The main problem with the business model, from a practical viewpoint, is that it simply isn't cost effective to develop space, and it may very well never be.  For companies to make the multi-trillion dollar investment in space infrastructure, there would have to be something out there that is valuable enough to make the capital costs worth it to conservative thinkers.  And company towns will not evolve into true civilizations in vacuum either, as most corporate employees will be on contract; they'll work a specified period, then go back home to spend their paychecks in places were there is actually something to buy.  Even the McGuffin of Helium-3 will not make permanent space colonies viable, anymore than oil deposits in the Gulf of Mexico lead to permanent underwater habitats.

          Now, I have introduced space colonization that is not motivated by economics, with the Destiny Foundation and their Conestoga colonies, but the original colonists of these outposts mostly lost their shirts when the asteroid economic bubble burst.  Most of these original colonies were either destroyed in the Great War, abandoned when they could no longer support themselves, or converted into military bases.

          Speaking of the Great War, the military social structure suffers from some problems as well.  The Great War itself, from a military standpoint, was stupid.  Much, much more money was spent trying to defend or take over Asteroid Cyclers than they were worth.  But this happens in War; the Pacific is full of worthless, god-forsaken islands that were bitterly contested because of their strategic value as forward bases.  In The Black Desert, the asteroid's potential as shipyards that would swing back to Terra's orbit in a couple of years with a brand new fleet made their capture and destruction a priority.

           Now, unlike corporate outposts,  military bases do have a history of spawning towns in their wake.  In space, however, this will not be case.  Military bases in places like the American frontier meant security for areas of prime agricultural land and trade routes, which is why settlers developed towns in their shadows.  We didn't see a bunch of pioneers flock to the Solomons, or even to the Philippines and Okinawa, after WWII, so we shouldn't expect the Asteroids to suddenly gain a big influx of fresh colonists after the Great War. 

          Another reason that the military model will not support civilian colonies is just that - support.   In this case, life support.  Militaries in The Black Desert use robots extensively.  As I mentioned in the post on Crew Requirements, you can get away with a crew of 80 or so for an IPV that has landing craft and a detachment of Espatiers.  In modern Navies, it would take over 800 people to fulfill the same mission, which is a 90% reduction in crew.  Add to this that these IPVs are themselves space stations, albeit mobile ones, and the justification for colonial supports is further reduced.  A small crew supervising a hoard of robots that mine raw materials and then fabricate war matériel is the logical choice for an asteroid base controlled by the military.

           It would seem that I've logic-ed myself into a corner.  I've managed to explain how it doesn't make sense to have asteroid colonies, yet the whole setting of The Black Desert is built on the idea that there are indeed permanent colonies in asteroids that cycle between Mars and Terra.  But why are they there?  How do they live?  And most important:  How do they govern themselves?

           I hate to be a tease, but we'll discuss the alternatives tomorrow ;)

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