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There is a long history of SF novels about interstellar free traders eking out a marginal existence on the fringes of the huge trader corporations, from Andre Norton's Solar Queen novels to the Space Angel series by John Maddox Roberts. Don't forget the entry in this website about Cargo Holds. As mentioned below, if you want to play around with interstellar trading, or even try doing a full simulation to do worldbuilding for creating the background of your new novel , I'd suggest getting a copy of GURPS Traveller: Written with help from a real live economist, this allows one to model interplanetary and interstellar trade with equations and everything.
It has detailed analysis of the economics of interstellar trade, and a system of equations to model trade routes and economic demands. Sometimes the traders live in large "clan-ships", developing a "trader culture. Sometimes these trader cultures in large clan-ships have a Thalassocracy , where they have a monopoly on trade since they control all access to space.
If people living on planets want to engage in interstellar trade, they have to go through the thalassocrats. The leader of the thalassocrats is of course called the thalassiarch. This section is basically a rough outline of Rick Robinson's Interstellar Trade: You'd probably be better off reading the full article but some people want executive summaries.
Rick starts with certain assumptions and follows them to various conclusions about the interstellar economy. You can alter some of the assumptions yourself to tweak the economy to suit your science fictional background. They go fast, can carry lots of people and cargo, and are the most advanced technology that can be massed produced. The ticket prices will not be similar between airliners and starships because FTL interstellar travel will probably take more than a few hours for the trip.
Therefore the starships will do fewer trips per year than airliners, so the starship passenger ticket price and cargo waybill will have to cover a larger share of the starship's yearly expense. For comparison purposes we need an airliner's average cost of running, but the corporations are remarkably closed-lipped about that.
This ignores taxes, station docking fees, and fuel. With creative maintenance, the service life might be longer than 30 years, see below. That is, assuming a full cargo turnover at each port of call, how many one-way runs can the ship make?
From departure planet orbit to FTL flight to arrival planet orbit. This is comparable to the Age of Sail. This makes each trip four months from departure to departure, or three cargos per year. The implication is that only very high value cargo can be profitably shipped interstellar. The implication is that the only things shipped interstellar would be luxury goods, items with a very high value per weight. Jewelry, spices, fine liquor, designer-label clothing.
Maybe some high value per weight industrial goods, such as microchips. Colony planet population is 10 million. Calculating backwards, this implies that , tons of interstellar cargo arrives at the colony planet annually. The colony must export the same amount or it will run a trade deficit and import prices will rise. This is because if they don't export, the cargo starships cannot find cargoes to transport and sell at the next destination.
Starships with empty cargo holds cost nearly as much to run as with full holds. They will have to make up the shortfall somehow, so they will raise the price of what they sell at this planet.
Each year, , tons moves in each direction, or , tons total. This is less than seagoing cargo ships, but more than cargo airplane. This means there has to be annual cargo loadings and unloadings to accommodate , tons.
Since each ship can make 3 one-way legs per year, then each ship will do three loadings. The implication is that the two planet's combined merchant fleet is between 65 to 70 ships.
Of course if each ship carries more than tons then fewer ships are needed. If the ships can carry tons then you would only need 13 or 14 ships. In practice this would not work very well, since the larger the cargo hold, the more difficult it is to find enough cargo on the planet to fill it. A trade network of a dozen colony worlds will support a few dozen to a few hundred cargo ships depending upon cargo hold size.
Airliners carry about four to five passengers per ton of equivalent cargo capacity. However airliner trips are only a few hours. Interstellar passengers cannot live in their seats for three months.
Each interstellar passenger berth equals one ton of equivalent cargo capacity. The direct result is that the cost of the passenger ticket is the same as the cost of one ton of cargo: You are not going to get much tourist traffic, not at those prices. A few rich people and business travellers.
Probably several times that for extra stuff like tractors and horses. Even worse, since the new colony will not have any exports, the cargo starship will have not cargo buy for the next trip. So the starship captain will have to charge round-trip prices for a one-way trip. The problem is that our assumptions have made it so that only millionaires can afford the ticket, but millionaires do not want to go live on some jerkwater frontier world.
We will have to change some of the assumptions. Lucky for us, there is some room to bring the costs down. We can make the merchant starships cheaper, or make them faster. We shall do both. This is reasonable, since starships are not stressed as much as airliners at least not orbit-to-orbit starships. This means the cargo starship can deliver 10 cargoes per year instead of three.
Assume 27 days is transit, 8 days is for servicing, maintenance, selling the cargo, and buying new cargo for the next run. That's more like it. In the reach of the middle class. This price schedule makes interstellar colonization viable. Our colonization-viable starships will also increase interstellar trade. As with all freight the rates will vary. Higher value merchandise will support higher shipping charges. A long-term fixed contract allowing ship owner to have dependable regular cargoes will get a lower rate.
Standby cargo will get a better rate, if the ship is making a run anyway, it is better to have full cargo holds.
The shipping capacity will only have to increase three-fold since starships now deliver three times as much cargo per year. Since shipping costs ten times lower so a wider range of goods are worth importing then the import-export sector can expand in total value of goods shipped as well.
High, but not out of reach for a mature trading zone. So a colony of 10 million will have an annual export and import of 3 million tons per year. Each trade starship can pick up and deliver 10 cargoes per year, so they need a net cargo capacity of , tons.
For a trade network of 12 colonies, the combined merchant marine needs a capacity of some 3. Most ships will still be small but bigger than jumbo jets to facilitate filling their cargo holds, but the heaviest-traffic routes will support some bigger ships. If there is no FTL radio, then some of the small freighters will sacrifice cargo capacity for speed i. The idea is to reduce the normal space transit time. Actually this might be a better job for an unmanned drone, they can take higher acceleration than human beings.
Passenger traffic is only a fraction of total cargo volume unless there is a colonization effort underway. Freight makes a profit for somebody, passengers are pure expense to whoever pays their ticket. A few routes may support scheduled passenger service probably in small ships.
But most will ride in cargo bays like railroad sleeping cards , in freighters, or in spare crew quarters. Full load mass and physical size depends upon assumptions about fuel mass ration, fuel bulk, etc. Note that total mass is three times the cargo capacity. As you can see, deadweight is the ship proper, structure, engines, anything that is not cargo or propellant.
With this assumption, the big freighters will have a fully loaded mass of 60, tons. The largest ships might be twice as big: The starship hulls are not cheaper, but they can carry more cargo in proportion to their structural mass.
With a 30 year service life, the combined shipbuilding yards of the 12 planet trade network will turn out about 25 ships per year. Hulls will last longer than 30 years but the equipment wears out and has to be replaced. Ships go back to the yards for an overhaul every decade or so, but eventually the cost of stripping everything and replacing it will exceed the value of the ship.
Depending upon overhaul costs the shipyards may make more money on rebuilding than on constructing brand new ships.
Some ships will stay in service for many decades. Others will be retained as the futuristic equivalent of naval hulks or the old passenger equipment that railroads use as work trains. Every big commercial space station will have a bunch of these old ships in the outskirts. If modular design is taken to its limit, "ships" will have no permanent existence. Instead they will be assembled out of modules and pods specifically for each run, much like a railroad train.
In that case, a ship's identity is attached to a service , not a physical structure. The analysis up until now focused on money and economics./p>
In go the swords and mercenaries. One might think the Elves on the island making armor would have something to say about all this. But to have a say, they need to get a Flying Castle. Right now what they have are coconuts and really nice hammocks. The Elves are out of luck.
Here the nations do what nations do. They do enter into far off hostilities. They ship fireball-throwing cannons instead of cotton thread. And they get into a hot shooting war over islands and Elves.
The document serves essentially as a guarantee to the seller that it will be paid by the issuer of the letter of credit regardless of whether the buyer ultimately fails to pay. In this way, the risk that the buyer will fail to pay is transferred from the seller to the letter of credit's issuer. The letter of credit also insures that all the agreed upon standards and quality of goods are met by the supplier.
Letters of credit are used primarily in international trade for large transactions between a supplier in one country and a customer in another. The parties to a letter of credit are the supplier, usually called the beneficiary, the issuing bank, of whom the buyer is a client, and sometimes an advising bank, of whom the beneficiary is a client.
Almost all letters of credit are irrevocable, i. In executing a transaction, letters of credit incorporate functions common to giros and traveler's cheques. It serves several purposes in international trade, both as transit information and title to the goods.
A legal document between the shipper of a particular good and the carrier detailing the type, quantity and destination of the good being carried.
The bill of lading also serves as a receipt of shipment when the good is delivered to the predetermined destination. This document must accompany the shipped goods, no matter the form of transportation, and must be signed by an authorized representative from the carrier, shipper and receiver.
The roads were bad and in poor repair. Ocean routes were treacherous. Brigands and pirates lurked in parts of the trade route far from any help. Distant nations treated merchants with disdain at best and as rich people to rob at worst. And every single landowner along the trade route felt that they had a right to extort whatever tax they could get out of the trade caravan. To fix these problems the medieval merchants found effective solutions, the most effective being the concept of a Merchant Guild.
These were association of of traders. Guilds could invest the member's fees in such things as improving road conditions and suppressing pirates and brigands. Lighthouses were erected at dangerous points, to prevent merchant shipwrecks. The guild would negotiate treaties of commerce with foreign nations, protecting the liberty and security of guild members sometimes the guild could even get an agreement for foreign troops to travel with a trade caravan.
And while a single trader could not do much about landowner's imposed taxes, a huge guild could negotiate from a position of power. Negotiations with a landowner would result in a Merchant Guild charter, where guild members would pay a fixed sum or an annual payment for right of passage.
You can see how these concepts can be re-used in an interstellar trading future, the situations are much the same. The flip-side of course is that the guild members have to pay their dues to the guild, and obey all the guild regulations. Members cannot engage in any type of trade forbidden by the Guild charter, fines were imposed on members who broke the rules, and guild members had to aid and support fellow guild members in times of trouble.
If a guild member was killed, the guild would care for any orphans thus tragically created. Guilds also supplied health insurance, funeral expenses, and doweries for girls who could not afford them.
Naturally the guilds became quite powerful. Independent traders would find it difficult to compete. In a village, local craftsmen also found it difficult to compete with the Merchant guilds, which lead to the rise of Craft guilds in self-defense. Eventually the merchant guild members delegated all the actual traveling and trading jobs in their profession to employees, and instead sat comfortably at home while their factors did all the hard work.
In Andre Norton's novels the "Free Traders" are independent interstellar merchants owning little more than their starship. Often they are victimized by the megacorporation trading companies, who are too big for an individual free trader to fight. In the novel Moon Of Three Rings apparently the free traders have formed a Merchant guild called the "Legion", which collectively is powerful enough to defend the members from the megacorps.
A trading post or "factory" is where a merchant or the merchant's factor carries on the merchant's business on a foreign planet. The trading post exchanges imported trade items for valuable local goods. In some cases a trading post and a couple of warehouses can grow into an actual colony.
The trading post merchant or factor is responsible for the local goods logistics proper storage and shipping , assesing and packaging for spacecraft transport. The factor is the representative for the merchant in all matters, reporting everything to the merchant headquarters. The longer the communication time delay between trading post and headquarters, the more trustworthy the factor has to be.
Factors may work with native contract suppliers, called a comprador. Also interesting is how the rise of the 17th century Dutch seaborne empire was due in part to their superior utilization of wind energy in the form of their breakthrough cargo transport, the Fluyt ship. Unlike other cargo ships of the time, the Fluyt was not designed to be easily converted into a warship. It was pure merchant vessel. This means it was cheaper to build, carried twice the cargo, and needed a smaller crew.
It could also operate in much shallower water than a conventional ship, allowing it to get cargo in and out of ports other ships could not reach. The only trade route Fluyts could not be used on were long haul voyages to the East Indies and the New World, because Fluyts were unarmed.
If you are a science fiction writer or game creator, these ideas should start the wheels turning in your mind. It may be instructive to read a couple of history textbooks on the topic of Merchant Guilds, and look over the Nicholas van Rijn stories of Poul Anderson. While a trading post can be on a remote planet at the frontier of a long space route, a Transport Nexus will probably be more centrally located.
A trading post planet might be the only source of some valuable luxury good exotic gem stones, unique liquor, native artworks so it can be located on Planet Sticks in the Boondocks Cluster. By way of contrast, transport nexuses are centers of commerce and will be "strategically" located. Its path roughly described a bent and swollen, meandering, broken ellipse along the edge of the rift and then out and across it and back again. A closer examination might reveal that the trail of the convoy was actually a series of lesser arcs tracing through the spiral arm, then turning reluctantly out into the darkness of The Deep Rift, with one scheduled stopover at the forlorn worlds of Marathon, Ghastly, and George, then across The Great Leap and into the lips of the ghostly streamer known as The Purse on the opposite side, then around The Outbeyond, down toward The Silver Horn, and finally turning home again, leaping across at The Narrows and then down through The Valley of Death to The Heart of Darkness, then a sudden dogleg up to a place of desperate joy known as Last Chance, before finally sliding into The Long Ride Home and a golden world called Glory.
The Silk Road Convoy was the oldest of all the caravans on the route. It was not the largest fleet on the route, but it was definitely the richest and most prestigious. The convoy followed the path of an ancient exploration vessel.
Colonies had followed the vessel. Traders had followed the colonies. The trade had evolved over the centuries into a trade route called The Silk Road.
Eventually, due to the twists and vagaries of luck and history and fate, it became one of the most profitable routes known in the Alliance. At any given moment there might be as many as thirty different caravans scattered along its great curving length—but only the original Silk Road Convoy was entitled to bear the name of the trade route. This was because the partnership which had grown up with the original Silk Road Convoy also owned or controlled most of the directorships of the Silk Road Authority.
The Silk Road Authority was larger than most governments. It held three seats in the Alliance and controlled almost all of the trade, both legal and otherwise, within the ellipse of its influence. The Authority had major offices on every planet within thirty light-years of the primary route. Every merchant ship in the arm paid a license fee for the privilege of traveling the route and booking passengers and cargo through the offices of the Authority.
Some ships, like the notorious freebooter Eye of Argon, preferred to travel alone. Others paid for the privilege of traveling with a caravan. The caravans were near-permanent institutions. Imagine a chain of vessels nearly three light-days long, islands of light strung through the darkness.
The caravans provided service and safety—and safety had lately become a primary consideration for star travelers. Because of its name, because of its age and its prestige, the Silk Road Convoy was considered the safest of all. Too often in history a mercenary force has disappeared a moment before the battle; switched sides for a well-timed bribe; or even conquered its employer and brought about the very disasters it was hired to prevent.
Mercenaries, for their part, face the chances common to every soldier of being killed by the enemy. In addition, however, they must reckon with the possibility of being bilked of their pay or massacred to avoid its payment; of being used as cannon fodder by an employer whose distaste for "money-grubbing aliens" may exceed the enemy's; or of being abandoned far from home when defeat or political change erases their employer or his good will.
A solution to both sets of special problems was made possible by the complexity of galactic commerce. The recorded beginnings came early in the twenty-seventh century when several planets caught up in the Confederation Wars used the Terran firm of Felchow und Sohn as an escrow agent for their mercenaries' pay.
Felchow was a commercial banking house which had retained its preeminence even after Terran industry had been in some measure supplanted by that of newer worlds. Neither Felchow nor Terra herself had any personal stake in the chaotic rise and fall of the Barnard Confederation; thus the house was the perfect neutral to hold the pay of the condottieri being hired by all parties. Payment was scrupulously made to mercenaries who performed according to their contracts.
This included the survivors of the Dalhousie debacle who were able to buy passage off that ravaged world, despite the fact that less than ten percent of the populace which had hired them was still alive. Conversely, the pay of Wrangel's Legion, which had refused to assault the Confederation drop zone on Montauk, was forfeited to the Montauk government.
Felchow und Sohn had performed to the satisfaction of all honest parties when first used as an intermediary. Over the next three decades the house was similarly involved in other conflicts, a passive escrow agent and paymaster.
It was only after the Ariete Incident of that the concept coalesced into the one stable feature of a galaxy at war. The Ariete, a division recruited mostly from among the militias of the Aldoni System, was hired by the rebels on Paley. Their pay was banked with Felchow, since the rebels very reasonably doubted that anyone would take on the well-trained troops of the Republic of Paley if they had already been handed the carrot.
But the Ariete fought very well indeed, losing an estimated thirty percent of its effectives before surrendering in the final collapse of the rebellion. The combat losses have to be estimated because the Republican forces, in defiance of the "Laws of War" and their own promises before the surrender, butchered all their fifteen or so thousand mercenary prisoners.
Felchow und Sohn, seeing an excuse for an action which would raise it to incredible power, reduced Paley to Stone Age savagery.
An industrialized world as Paley was is an interlocking whole. Off-planet trade may amount to no more than five percent of its GDP; but when that trade is suddenly cut off, the remainder of the economy resembles a car lacking two pistons. It may make whirring sounds for a time, but it isn't going anywhere.
Huge as Felchow was, a single banking house could not have cut Paley off from the rest of the galaxy. When Felchow, however, offered other commercial banks membership in a cartel and a share of the lucrative escrow business, the others joined gladly and without exception. No one would underwrite cargoes to or from Paley; and Paley, already wracked by a war and its aftermath, shuddered down into the slag heap of history. Lucrative was indeed a mild word for the mercenary business.
The escrowed money itself could be put to work, and the escrowing bank was an obvious agent for the other commercial transactions needed to run a war. Mercenaries replaced equipment, recruited men, and shipped themselves by the thousands across the galaxy. With the banks' new power came a new organization.
The expanded escrow operations were made the responsibility of a Bonding Authority, still based in Bremen but managed independently of the cartel itself. The Authority's fees were high. In return, its Contracts Department was expert in preventing expensive misunderstandings from arising, and its investigative staff could neither be bribed nor deluded by a violator. For a ship moving at near light-speed, time dilation requires that in terms of your subjective, shipboard life span, the voyage won't be much more time-consuming than, say, one of Francis Drake's pirate raids.
This brings us to problem number three: Assuming there are adequate ships and places to go, and the crew's lifespans aren't a problem, why would fleets of expensive vessels be launched to go there? That's another way of asking the Big Question, and we'll spend the rest of this essay trying to answer it.
But before continuing, let's be sure we're all together. I suspect that the Big Question may have taken some of you by surprise.
After all, there are abundant examples of terrestrial, trans-oceanic trade, which at first glance seem to provide models for interstellar commerce. For example, the Japanese import raw materials to their resource-poor islands, transform the materials into automobiles, send the finished goods across the Pacific, and sell them in the United States—and they make a lot of money doing so.
Couldn't the same kind of thing work among the stars? The times and distances and therefore the costs involved are not analogous—not even close. The distance to the Sun's nearest stellar neighbor is approximately five billion times the distance from Japan to California. Therefore, the model of transoceanic trade is virtually useless. It's often been assumed that there would be interstellar freighters and ore ships based on the trans-oceanic model, but is this assumption realistic?
Consider the importation of raw materials to the Earth. Sure, resources might vanish from the Earth or become unimaginably expensive, although this is doubtful.
Still, we won't be using starships to import raw materials. We can always mine the asteroids, or Jupiter's moons. They're millions of times closer, and therefore far cheaper. So unless there are minerals out there we've never dreamed of, and that we can't synthesize closer to home, we can forget about interstellar ore boats.
It's not raw materials that we'll lack in the solar system, it's cheap labor. But the cost of labor on Earth would have to be incredibly high to justify an interstellar flow of manufactured goods.
It's conceivable, of course. We can easily imagine a future political setup the post office scenario in which all nations on Earth are so bogged down with artificially high labor costs and archaic work rules that the "cheapest" Earth-made automobiles would cost, relatively, what a Rolls Royce costs now.
But ask yourself—would even that kind of economic insanity justify an interstellar transportation system, with a or year Earth viewpoint transit time? The unions would take care if they were clever that terrestrial prices never got so high that the interstellar freetraders would have a competitive advantage. Even if Earth was devastated by war a common science fiction scenario , we could rebuild our factories faster than we could import finished goods from the stars.
So we need to assume a really amazing manufacturing advantage that would make goods from the stars so valuable as to be worth the cost—and years of transit time—of shipping them to Earth.
Some goods are unique—like the products of newly created technologies. Ah, but would new colonies develop such technologies? And even if they did, there's always the risk of industrial espionage; and anyway, by the time the products got to their distant market Earth , would they still be state of the art? A dozen years of transport time can dull a product's competitive advantage. Besides, absent a new terrestrial dark age another common SF scenario , interstellar shipments are going to be pretty much a one-way street.
Earth will have technologies the new worlds need, at least in the early stages of our interstellar expansion. They the colonies will need goods from Earth, but not vice versa.
In marketing terms, they're going to be like the natives of Bangladesh—we know they're out there, and they want what we produce, but what's in it for us? The problem for an interstellar merchant is finding something Earth can buy from the new worlds.
Well, what can the new worlds export? It'll be a long time until the new worlds are out-inventing Earth. All their technology will be old stuff, made with machines they took with them. But even old technology can be unique if it involves secret processes. Sure, but does Coke's secret formula justify the cost of interstellar freight?
What else have they got? Persian rugs are regionally specific, labor-intensive products. Havana cigars and French wines require special climatic conditions. Extraterrestrial analogs of such items could be traded. But it would take a lot of future Picassos, cases of Coca-Cola, bottles of Chateau Betelgeuse, Oriental carpets, and interstellar stogies to support a galactic merchant fleet.
There's the possibility of Dune-like spice, or Star Trek's dilithium crystals, or some other wonder goods—but we can't count on their existence. For the moment, let's ignore this problem, and arbitrarily assume that something, say automobiles, will be worth shipping from one planetary system to another. This the Toyota scenario is our biggest, wildest assumption so far, but let's play with it for a while, and see how it goes.
If you were a star-faring merchant considering the purchase of a shipload of cars from, say, Epsilon Eridani, which is almost 11 light-years away from Earth, how would you know what market conditions were like on Earth? It'll take you 11 years actually By the time you got that reply, the information would be 11 years out of date.
Perhaps Marco Polo could operate like that, but things were somewhat different then. Instead, imagine that Earth is always broadcasting its needs, so you touch down on a manufacturing planet circling Epsilon Eridani which we'll call "EE" and you get the latest info 11 years old from Earth—"Hot market here for cars from EE.
Now you start thinking like a merchant. What kind of mark-up could you expect that would justify buying a starship-load of cars and tying up your capital or paying interest on a loan for the dozen years you would need to get those cars to your destination?
I said a dozen years, because your ship will certainly be slower than the communications system. Bear in mind that you'd be making an investment in goods that might very well be obsolete when they finally arrived.
And if Earth is dominated by strong labor unions as they would have to be to make scarce, extraterrestrial labor a bargain they'll have a full range of protectionist legislation to keep out cheap imports.
And what kind of import duties would you have to pay in order to clear your cargo through Earth customs? The only way your venture could work is if you could know, a dozen years in advance of your arrival on Earth, what your sales price and other costs would be. It's possible for that broadcast of Earth's needs to be some kind of continuing offer, containing price and terms, and by acting on it you could be assured of selling your cargo at those prices—even though your cargo would be a dozen years old when your ship arrives on Earth.
That would require an automobile dealer on Earth to commit himself, years in advance, to pay a healthy price for cargo he hoped would be arriving—some day. Maybe his broadcast offer would say, "Irving's Interstellar Imports needs cars, as of the year Will pay 30 Heinleins each, plus all import taxes, if they get here by the year that's 11 years for Irving's offer to get to EE, and 13 more for the goods to be produced and sent from EE to Earth.
This offer guaranteed by irrevocable letter of credit from Bank of Terra. The "offer" would have to be officially registered somewhere at EE, and if you accepted it, that too would be registered, so the next interstellar entrepreneur arriving at EE wouldn't duplicate the order. Irving only wants cars, not million. A message would then be sent to Earth saying that the goods were on the way. Would that do it? Perhaps, if there were strict laws that made that kind of deal a binding contract, if the Bank of Terra were still in business when you arrived, if there were no currency depreciation, and perhaps a thousand other things.
Maybe a local branch of the Bank of Terra on EE would use that broadcast offer as collateral, and make you a loan equal to the cost of your cargo and the cost of the loan, plus some profit.
Then you pay for the cars, leave the profit on deposit with interest compounding and you head for Earth to deliver your cargo to Irving. The bank should do quite well, too.
The loan is secure it's backed by the Bank of Terra on Earth, and your ship is insured by Interstellar Lloyds. Your profit deposit is going to sit on EE, waiting about 24 years until you return.
With a loan portfolio and a deposit base like that, interstellar banking should be a super-profitable industry. When you arrive on Earth with your cargo in good condition, the Bank of Terra on Earth broadcasts to its branch on EE that everything's fine, and you can withdraw your funds.
We've just described how a "letter of credit" works today in international trade. And observe, future bankers, that it can take decades for funds to clear. That's one hell of a profitable float. Faster-than-light communications would probably be a banking disaster! Now you dash back to EE, most likely with an outward bound cargo arranged in the same manner.
That sounds like it could be workable, but does this Toyota scenario make any sense? Would an automobile dealer on Earth or any other interstellar destination offer to pay for a shipload of cars or whatever which wouldn't arrive for two dozen years? It's unlikely, but not impossible.
So our terrestrial auto dealer only has to put up a small deposit now with the Bank of Terra to have the payment guaranteed in 24 years. And, if the deposits come from his customers, the auto dealer isn't even investing his own funds. The only risks are structural ones—the bank may fail, the laws may change, the currency may depreciate, there may be war, plague, and so on.
But these are risks that could be faced, and gladly—if the lure of huge profits were there. It makes even more sense if the customer doesn't have to wait 24 years, which is possible. His car is waiting for him, all paid for. Of course it's an old-style car, but that's OK. He's technologically like Rip Van Winkle. Unlike Rip, he's still young, but he's hopelessly out of date, and not trained to use new vehicles.
We're assuming rapid technological progress, remember? Interstellar travelers need old-style goods and probably live in behind-the-times communities with their contemporaries so the years of transit time your cargo requires turns out to be a desirable feature.
We're getting desperate now. We've got ships, we've got places to go. Time and distance are no problem. Compound interest makes long voyages worthwhile, and we've worked out a system of interstellar finance. We can even imagine some kind of commerce going on. But how can we get interstellar colonies organized and self-sufficient? Where will the funds come from? The Big Question looms as large as ever. Can it be done? Remember the tremendous profits to be made from the banking system, if only we could think of a way to get it started.
Surely, with wealth like that waiting to be made, someone will think of a way. Our venturers might not have to wait decades for a return on their investment. Remember time dilation—a round trip to EE takes about 24 years, Earth time, but only about 3 years, ship's time. Investors could get a much quicker payoff subjectively if they go along for the ride. Not that they'd have any desire to become settlers. All they want is to stay alive long enough to reap the rewards of their enterprise.
A rich man could put part of his portfolio at interest on Earth, invest the rest in an exploration company, and then climb aboard ship. After 24 years have passed on Earth, he returns only 3 years older, finds a potful of money waiting for him in the bank his left-behind deposit has multiplied five or ten times, depending on interest rates and he also owns the beginning of a thriving business on EE.
After another trip or two, he's incredibly rich, still relatively young, and now his investment on EE should be starting to pay off. This is the scenario of star-traveling investors, who become centuries old by Earth's reckoning, with fortunes and maybe families established on several worlds. It's quite possible that something like this will happen. In fact, this scenario is so tempting that it may be the answer to the Big Question!
In the May issue of Analog , in an article titled " The Economics of Interstellar Commerce ," I explained that even if there were no technological barriers to star travel, a species nevertheless needs economic incentives to build ships and go voyaging to other stars. The investment required for star travel is huge; the payoff is centuries or at best, decades away.
Why would any species bother with such a costly activity, except perhaps for the extravagance of a few exploratory ships? The only motivation I could think of to justify the multi-generational expense of establishing extra-solar colonies would be the combined benefits to be derived from time dilation and compound interest. Greatly simplified, my idea was this: What will ultimately lure investors' money into building starships won't be the stars, it'll be superfast compound interest relativistically speaking.
Your Earth-bound bank account, piling up interest over the decades, would make you rich when you returned, still young, after a long interstellar voyage. This is relativity's famous "twin paradox," applied to you and your bank account. I predicted that it would probably be star-traveling and thus long-lived bankers who found it profitable to invest in starting mankind's interstellar expansion.
Only after the passage of centuries might other activities justify the continuing expense of maintaining fleets of starships. And if I'm right about this, then we may seem to be alone for a very understandable reason—no other species has seeking motivation. SETI is cheap; all it really requires is off-the-shelf radio technology.
Yet in the absence of a profit motive, we can't even keep SETI afloat. You can imagine, therefore, how impossible it would be to raise funds for a fleet of non-profit starships—even if they weren't all that difficult to build.
I don't want to minimize the technological end of things, but interstellar travel really boils down to this: Assuming a species' engineers can do the job, economics is the whole ball of wax. Could economics be the key missing factor in the Drake equation, as well as an explanation for the Great Silence? Drake himself suspects something like this. Could this explanation apply to every intelligent species in the galaxy? What does it take to develop our particular brand of economic incentives?
It requires that a species generate several intellectual concepts, and that they take each of these concepts seriously. At minimum, they need: Observe that none of these requirements is an engineering development. None is a tangible technological achievement.
Each is invisible, intangible, and abstract. Therefore, it seems probable that our from being universal; it could actually be unique to us, and incomprehensibly "alien" to other species in our galaxy. We have no difficulty assuming that many intelligent aliens will develop technology, because technology depends on observing and rationally responding to the tangible, objective world.
Any reasonably bright, land-dwelling, tool-wielding species can eventually do that although in retrospect, it certainly took us long enough. But what is the likelihood of another species' hitting upon and adopting every single one of the abstract economic ideas listed above? Most of the human cultures in Earth's past and even today would fail such a test. A hive-like species, or a species that lives in communes, or that is always dominated by tyrants, or which consists of solitary individuals, may be scientifically brilliant and extraordinarily curious, but they will probably never develop the essential concepts of banking and interest and commercial finance that make interstellar travel a profitable, affordable activity.
To such aliens, our "mysterious" banks, our profit-seeking corporations, our compound-interest calculations so vital to time-dilated star travelers , and certainly our stock exchanges, might be viewed as exotic manifestations of a bewildering alien religion.
Even after studying us, they may utterly fail to grasp our motivation or would they call it obsession? The economic explanation tells us why, with the whole shining Universe beckoning to them, no alien species has ever been sufficiently motivated to build and launch ships to the stars. They're isolated, not by necessity, but by their own lack of imagination. They're not even sending out messages; nor are they listening for ours.
The Great Silence, therefore, is the silence of poverty. The galaxy is stagnant, with each alien species tragically isolated from the others. Each is a potential supplier of products and information, each is a potential buyer as well, but there is no interstellar intercourse.
That's because we haven't arrived on the interstellar scene. When we do, we can be the merchant princes of the galaxy. Who cares if the aliens never understand that our traders, engaged in a ten-year subjective voyage, are primarily motivated by a century of compound interest piling up at home? As long as we're willing to build and fly the ships—and reap the profits—let the aliens think we're crazy! We can do for the stay-at-home aliens what was done for us by the great railroad and canal builders, the merchant sea captains, the leaders of caravans.
This is not merely the business opportunity of a lifetime, it's the biggest opportunity of all time! The Great Silence is our clue that the galaxy needs us—it needs us very much. There's a lesson in all of this for those who like to dream up exotic, Utopian visions of mankind's future. There are those who long for the day when we shall "progress" beyond the need for private property.
They imagine that when we achieve that glorious un-propertied state. They never say precisely what's going to happen. It's supposed to be obvious, and perhaps it is to them, but it certainly isn't obvious to me. Presumably they imagine that when we finally achieve that "lofty" level of existence, we'll automatically start building starships—somehow. But it doesn't stand up to rational scrutiny. Your savings account and mutual fund shares and insurance policies aren't keeping mankind from the stars.
When the Utopian day of socio-economic "liberation" comes, we'll have a society modeled after such "noble" people as the North American Indians—people who, to their everlasting misfortune, had not developed our economic incentives, or even the concept of land ownership—people who therefore causal linkage implied here numbered among their greatest accomplishments such technological wonders as I can hear the knees jerking out there, so let me hasten to add that I'm criticizing an economic system, not a race.
Those "thinkers" who imagine that we shall become an "advanced" star traveling species when we have developed "beyond" such "primitive" concepts as ownership of private property are dreaming of a future that can never be. You can have a society without property, or you can have the stars.
You cannot have both. So there it is—the likeliest reason why we seem to be alone—we're the only capitalists in the cosmos. And if that's really true, then even though the Universe is seething with intelligent life and probably has been for hundreds of millions or possibly billions of years, we have absolutely nothing to fear. Ladies and Gentlemen of Earth, I bring you tidings of great joy: The stars belong to us! In the field of stability, perhaps one of the most useful ideas is the concept of feedback.
Feedback is a flow of information that has a reciprocating and moderating influence on organizational behavior. Information generated by the system and presented as output is fed back in as input via a "feedback loop. Sudden stimuli applied randomly to the system and wildly oscillating inputs are quickly "damped" out. Theoretically a well-designed extraterrestrial governmental organization possessing no time delays in feedback should be capable of instantaneous response to disruptive influences and should exhibit perfect dynamic stability.
However, time delays are inherent in all real physical systems, and this problem will be further exacerbated in the case of interstellar systems because of the comparatively large lag times in transportation and communication between the stars. And whenever delays exist in any system, any variation by one of the quantities moderated by the feedback loop may be perpetuated indefinitely.
In other words, without multiple control loops certain disturbances introduced in one corner of a galactic empire could propagate throughout the system, reverberating in continuous oscillations instead of settling down.
According to systems analysts, galactic governments should be designed to be "resilient" with "soft failure modes" nonlethal , When unexpected events occur, a well-designed xenopolitical system will not collapse but rather will degrade gradually. Tim Quilici of Rockwell International has devised a very simple "systems" model of an interstellar economics system to illustrate the basic concept of feedback see below.
Using a single loop mechanism, a socialistic alien government attempts to hold stable the price of some valuable trade commodity — say, "positronic brains" — by controlling supply. The "brains" are manufactured on the Capitol World, a center of industrial development and political control, and are shipped to Outback 10 light-years away. Demand for "brains" to control the agricultural and mining robots on Outback has remained virtually constant for the last century at units per year.
Suddenly, in A. Over a decade it drops to 50 per year, at which point it levels off and holds steady. What happens to the price of "brains" that Capitol World is trying to control? The government at Capitol wishes to hold the price constant by controlling supply.
By halving the number of shipments of positronic brains to Outback, the Capitol World government can force a return to the old price level. Above is a block diagram of the proposed systems model of Outback economics. P t is the price of positronic brains on Outback. Q t is the quantity supplied to Outback by the Capitol World government. C t is the consumer demand on Outback for positronic brains. Demand remains at 50 units for the next century.
When demand for positronic brains on Outback falls, so does price. The Capitol World government finds out 10 years later, by microwave communication. By AD, 60 years after the change in demand, price has returned to normal. As we see from the above , the decrease in demand on Outback causes an immediate price reduction there.
Suddenly there is a glut on the market. The price remains low as too many new "brains" continue to pour in from Capitol World — which has not yet had time to react to the changed circumstances. The situation, in this simple model, is not fully remedied for 60 years following the initial disturbance.
This suggests some of the difficulties inherent in interstellar commerce and government. Systems theory should allow similar modeling of the dynamic behavior of vastly more complex galactic organizations, provided their modes of operation and multiple feedback loops can be precisely and quantitatively specified. Miller, pioneer in systems science and president of the University of Louisville in Kentucky, has developed what is probably the most comprehensive and far-reaching general systems theory devised to date.
Despite seeming to be very similar to the Sugar Bowl world of the original show, the world of MLP features such things as child prostitution, oppressive, soul-destroying cults, and a flourishing culture of bigotry. A B-plot meanwhile covers the Equestrian kingdom's efforts to stomp out the Changelings once and for all in her absence.
The story soon starts dropping hints that a good portion of Equestrian society has been erected on a hotbed of horrific crimes against sapiency , with allusions being made to — among other things — The Yugoslav Wars.
Needless to say, it gets a bit dark and cynical at points. In Friendship is Witchcraft , ponies pride themselves on ignorance, slavery, racism, and general abuse to non-pony races is openly tolerated, dark forces plague the world on a regular basis, Twilight is allowed to cause mayhem and commit evil dead on a regular basis , without any negative effects to herself , Fluttershy openly runs an Apocalypse Cult , and the ponies in general are either too ignorant to notice horrors of their world or just don't care.
The Mentally Advanced Series has Equestria ruled by the Ax-Crazy Affably Evil evil Mad God Celestia, whose "teachings" turned her student into a cynical alcoholic mess, most of the ponies are either shallow and self serving or mentally unstable, there is a secret war being fought between Eldritch Abominations that ponies are too ignorant to notice, Fantastic Racism is rampant throughout the three species of ponies, the entire cast live depressing lives , and the various events of the series rarely end with any real resolution.
Equestria is ruled by a self absorbed immortal, who openly treats her subjects however she fills at the moment without a care in the world, the world is populated almost entirely by selfish jerk asses , murder has been illegal for all of ten years , criminal organization commit acts of violence with very little in their way, and Ponyville is in such deplorable state, its rat infestation is the only thing keeping their crocodile problem confined and the water is contaminated with arsenic.
There's one thing I'll never understand, Scootaloo. Why can't everyone in Ponyville just accept me for who I am? My changelings need to consume pure love! And you came looking for it in Equestria? Though Lighter and Softer than the examples above, it is still ruled by a very irresponsible Princess Celestia, who usually leaves her subjects to fend for themselves and recruits three school aged fillies to serve as her generals in a war between Equestria and two different evil empires closing in from both sides.
Oh, and the series also deconstructs the idea of characters being aware of the fourth wall, by showing how mentally and emotionally draining it would be, knowing that their lives are nothing more then a show, that can be cancelled at anytime and having to live with the burden that if the general public found out, it could have devastating consequences to the world, and if they uses their fourth wall abilities too much, it could create plot holes that will come back to bite them in unsee-able circumstances.
Star Mares uses the more saccharine elements of the setting as a smoke screen for the more unsavory elements of the Star Wars universe, such as Fantastic Racism. The fact that all the characters are brightly colored in contrast to the largely monochrome backgrounds helps drive the point home.
The first half of the story starts out with a world where everything appears to be great and the sheep live happily. Then the Wolf King kills Chirin's mother. Things get progressively darker and darker until the Downer Ending of all Downer Endings comes. Chirin kills the wolf. Despite this, Chirin gets rejected by the other sheep, and lives a desolate life alone in the wilderness until he finally dies, having killed his only friend. The world inhabited by the Other Mother in Coraline.
It goes from full preschooler to full hell so gradually that it's downright creepy. Pleasure Island from Pinocchio is a perfect textbook example of this. The Coachman takes disobedient boys here to allow them to do anything at all that they want, including smoke cigars, drink beer or play pool, but eventually, they are turned into donkeys and sold off by the Coachman.
Of course, the fact that Pleasure Island is a gigantic carnival-world — and not the wholesome kind of carnival , either — should have tipped somebody off. Though the point isn't emphasized, Duloc in Shrek is one of these: Anyone who doesn't meet his standards gets rounded up and dumped in Shrek's swamp. Sunnyside, the daycare center in Toy Story 3. What originally seems like a utopia for abandoned or donated toys is actually a dictatorship run by Lotso the bear.
The new toys are brought into the room where the toddlers play with and misuse them until they're broken, and anyone who tries to break out of their intricate security system is either imprisoned or tortured. But after Andy's toys manage to overthrow Lotso, Sunnyside became much more hospitable. Frivoli from Twice Upon a Time may be the land of sweet dreams, but it's not much better than the Murkworks on a few levels.
Their ruler, the Chef of State , is an illiterate doofus, the "Pantry of Pomp" is an apparent Kangaroo Court , and our heroes Ralph and Mumford are treated like crap for ultimately minor screw-ups, apparently because they're "funny-looking".
What was meant to be a five-year cruise for Earthlings while the titular robots cleaned up the polluted planet instead turned into a perpetual cruise. Everyone has gotten so fat from living in microgravity while being pampered by robots that everyone is traveling on hoverchairs meant for the infirm — no one has actually walked in centuries. Even the entertainment consists of watching robots play golf at the driving range.
The Man leaves food daily, there's lots of poetry and culture , and whatever you do don't mention the wires. Granted, given that their choices were "near-complete extermination" or "guaranteed collective survival", the rabbits may have been justified in their choice.
Thneedville in The Lorax. Everything looks great, but all of it is manufactured, fresh air has to be bought, and right outside the wall is a dystopian wasteland. It seems like a sugary paradise, but it is utter hell for Vanellope von Schweetz who is cruelly treated as a "mistake. The place was usurped by King Candy, a. Turbo, and the population reprogrammed to treat her like that. What's going on in this candy-coated heart of darkness? The Lego world presented in The LEGO Movie is a very bright, merry, and cheery place, with people complimenting each other and getting along well A world where talking, singing clothed mice and other animals secretly live among humans may sound adorable on the surface, until it is revealed they have their own equivalents to racism, wage slavery, gangs, protection rackets, government corruption and more.
Sausage Party seems'' to be a typical light-hearted and friendly CGI-film. However, it's full of a bunch of swearing, sex jokes even a massive food orgy at the end , and foods continuously getting "massacred" by the humans or, in the foods' perspectives, the "Gods". Video The Truman Show , where the whole world in which Truman Burbank lives is a giant television studio situated in Hollywood and he is the main character and the only inhabitant who isn't an actor in an incredibly epic reality show.
He grew up in that world, which is portrayed like a mix of the modern age and a stereotypical s American suburb, but is " On air, unaware " the whole time. He starts finding out when things begin to fall apart; first a floodlight falls from the sky, then he accidentally discovers a make-up room for the actors behind the doors of a fake elevator.
Then he notices he can't leave his hometown, ever: He finally manages to get out by sailing away and crashing into the horizon. The future city of San Angeles presented in Demolition Man looks just rosy. No crime, no war, everything is bright and shiny Yeah, it's a real Sugar Bowl. Too bad sugar is banned by the government because it's bad for you. In fact, absolutely anything that might be the least bit harmful, offensive or disruptive to anybody is.
No meat products, no alcoholic drinks, no contact sports, no swear words, no spicy food, no uneducational toys, and no physical contact up to and including sexual intercourse. In the words of the film's villain, it's like if Oceania was run by an evil Mr. This namby-pamby, "oppressing you for your own good" society is why there's a gang of well-armed but actually pretty friendly hobos trying to avoid it all by scraping out a free living in the city's sewers.
In turn, the city's founder groomed the villain in cryosleep to exterminate undesirables like them, to keep his idea of a perfect society alive. Coruscant in the Star Wars prequels. This is established before the prequels, in the form of an essay written by an Imperial propaganda minister, who cheerfully describes the planet's technological wonders, mentions in passing that crime is being wiped out, and points out the magnanimity of the Emperor in granting aliens designated housing areas regularly patrolled by Stormtroopers, to better protect them from any intolerant locals.
Said author was a nonhuman himself. Plinkett also notes in his review that daily life on Coruscant is busy, bright, and chipper, even when the most traumatic and horrific war to ever be fought in the galaxy is going on. Coruscant is filled with the Republic's ultra-wealthy and privileged elite, and emblematic of the decadent and corrupt society that was the Republic in its final days. And, Harry notes, it's still going strong after 20 years under Emperor Palpatine, whose most redeeming quality was, apparently, being smart enough not to shit where he ate.
Canto Bight in The Last Jedi is a gorgeous, glamorous casino world with classy galactic high rollers living it up at swanky parties. The future setting in The Purge seems like a utopia, and actually, it almost is. Of course, it's actually worse than that. If you survive being attacked by someone you thought you could trust, like the protagonists did, you'll never trust them again.
It's also hinted that the biggest reason for this event is the government's way of weeding out the poor and the weak. Worst of all, the movie portrays humanity itself in a very grim way, showing that, if given the opportunity to commit murder and get away with it, most will take advantage of the opportunity, simply because they can.
The sequel, however, downplays it, with a resistance that rises up against the Founding Fathers who decided that not enough people were dying, so hired some death squads to kill the poor.
Serenity has Miranda, a planet that was a failed attempt at creating a utopia by dosing the population with a chemical designed to curb their violent impulses with the ultimate aim of doing this to every world.
The result is a ghost planet filled with abandoned buildings, the corpses of people who became so docile because of the aforementioned chemical that they laid down and died, and those who had the exact opposite reaction to the chemical, becoming the cannibalistic and psychopathically violent Reavers. A man steps off a bus in a desert and is taken to a city where everything seems nice on the surface.
He gets a nice house, a pretty girlfriend and almost anything he desires, but there is one catch. Turns out that the place is a dystopia where emotions are nonexistent, food and drink is flavorless and there are no children anywhere. The Gotham City of The Dark Knight Saga seems more prosperous and optimistic than the Gotham of the older Batman films, but we learn rather quickly that at the ground level crime is eating the streets whole while the upper class just chooses to ignore it, wrapped up in their own success.
The citizens of Gotham do care enough to take some action to rebuild their city, and thanks to the Bat himself corruption and crime are taking a beating and the Police Are Useless mantra is cut down, and Earn Your Happy Ending is in full effect.
The first film of the saga reveals that the League of Shadows are partly responsible for the current state of Gotham, having tried to destroy the city, which they perceived as a Wretched Hive , using economic means.
Which mostly just made it more wretched. Look beyond your own pain, Bruce. This city is rotting. They talk about the Depression like it's history and it's not. Most of the films of Tim Burton run on this in one form or another. Pee-wee's Big Adventure begins with a typical day of breakfast and a bike ride to the shopping mall— and ends with Pee-Wee's bicycle being stolen and his becoming so distraught that he slowly goes deranged.
The Joker holds a parade in downtown Gotham City to celebrate the town's th anniversary, showering 20 million dollars on the streets to lure the crowds in And in Edward Scissorhands , the neighbors who are so kind to Edward in the beginning turn violently on him once they suspect incorrectly that he's a burglar. And his version of Alice in Wonderland isn't exactly set in a proper Wonderland. This may be former Disney animator Burton's way of demonstrating that "Disneyland" isn't all it's cracked up to be — especially since his more realistic movies Big Fish , for example depict worlds that are neither wholly good nor wholly bad.
A world where everyone is finally equal — by lobotomizing the overtly talented, if needed. It's like Nazi Germany. The problem is all the oppressed people are in some camp somewhere and nobody ever sees them. So the world of Chicago is a slick world. A world that's run by money and corruption and it looks fabulous. The future Finland of where class differences have been eliminated, diseases eradicated, wars are history, everyone is finally chemically happy , the world is ruled by scientists and civil servants instead of politicians — and under the surface everything is horribly wrong.
The Italian film I'm Not Scared features this, largely due to the fact that the main character is a naive young boy. His quiet little rural village seems nice enough, but most of the villagers including the main character's parents are involved in the kidnapping of a young Milanese boy. Neo Seoul in Cloud Atlas has all the features: Of course, it's later revealed retired Fabricants are secretly executed and recycled into cheap protein to feed the rest of the Fabricant population.
Eden Parish in The Sacrament initially comes off as a self-sustained utopia where people can live together regardless of the race or background. It's only until later that we find out that the people aren't allowed to leave, and those that disobey the rules are severely punished. The titular town in Pleasant Ville is an example of this. There is no poverty, serious illness, or hostility. All the residents go through their lives seemingly constantly being "pleasant". Even the laws of physics seem to conform to "pleasantness" as there are no fires, all thrown basketballs will always go into the basket, and roads out of Pleasantville only ever lead back into town.
But as the protagonists soon realize, the fictional lives of the Pleasantville townsfolk are shallow and devoid of meaning. Their society lacks any form of culture, depth, genuine emotion, sexuality and even color. Furthermore, as changes begin to set in, the previously "pleasant" townsfolk react in fear by destroying all forms of cultural expression such as books and paintings, imposing cruel laws, and implementing segregation.
You might say it's a deconstruction of '50s shows like this by displaying some actual problems of the times. Summerisle in The Wicker Man may count as this, as it is not as peaceful and joyous as it seems to be. Sure, everyone's healthy and has and is apparently satisfied with all the toys and drugs they could ever want, but all of them hatch out of bottles and are programmed from birth to be satisfied with their also pre-programmed lives, seven-year-olds having sex is considered late , and the whole thing depends on the intentionally-stupidified and drugged-up lower classes and shallow, selfish, immature upper classes.
What education there is which seems to be entirely for the higher classes focuses almost exclusively on the applied sciences, with very little attention devoted to theoretical science or liberal arts.
It's a peaceful, stable society, but one built at the cost of creativity and self-expression—and very few even realize what it is that humanity's lost as a result. Made slightly better by one of the leaders being a relatively Reasonable Authority Figure , and that freethinking people who can't stand the luscious reality have an option to move to remote islands where life is harsher but more open-minded and less restrained then again, we never see any of the islands , but not by much.
What makes this type of dystopia especially scary is that it is perfectly realizable. Huxley wrote his dystopia in , when it felt like a distant horror: This prospect became so scary to Huxley himself that he wrote a warning pamphlet Brave New World Revisited where he stated his book was intended to be a dystopia and warned about things evolving towards his nightmares. Huxley's dystopia has no invaders from outer space, no breaking of natural laws, no speculative technology — most of the things he saw as pure science fiction are everyday stuff today It seems like a Shining City were everything is beautiful and its people are courteous and civilized.
Beneath the shiny exterior lies an economy built on slavery and politics dominated by a bureaucracy impassible to those without inside knowledge, poisoned wine, and assassins. And the city's Ancient Tradition , the warlocks? They invite people to their headquarters so their leadership can feed on their life energy. Several of the Free Cities qualify. Lys is a tropical island paradise nestled in the warm waters of the Summer Sea.
The Dragonlords of Valyria created "Lys the Lovely" to be a pleasure resort with beautiful climate, good wine, and beautiful people. So where's the crap in this? Those beautiful people are sex slaves, kidnapped en masse by pirates, corsairs, and slave merchants from all over the world. Lys's fortunes and fame rests upon being a massive whorehouse of beautiful slaves.
Proudest and oldest daughter of Old Valyria, rich, mighty, and boasting of magnificent structures like the Long Bridge and the Black Walls. But the crap is becoming very noticeable through the cracks, as any astute observer can spot the city's decay as discontentment rises among the slaves the overwhelming majority of the city's population and the corrupt warhawk administrators try to pacify the situation with heads mounted on pikes.
King's Landing itself is a pigsty as everyone agrees, but the Royal Court appeared to be a wonderful world of courtly romance, glamour, balls, and tourneys from Sansa's viewpoint. At the beginning at least. Until the crap utterly overwhelms the saccharine. In The Hunger Games , the Capitol. Everyone there is happy, healthy, and lives a life of luxury and decadence. The price for this utopia? The twelve Districts, full of wage slaves who live in poverty, working themselves to death to provide for the Capitol.
The arena of the 50th annual Hunger Games deliberately invokes this trope. At first, it appears to be a beautiful green meadow under a bright blue sky, with a mountain in the distance.
But it turns out that everything in it is deadly. The sparkling river water, luscious fruit, and beautiful flowers are all poisonous. All the cute animals are Killer Rabbit s, including man-eating carnivorous squirrels that attack in packs, butterflies with lethal stings, and flocks of flamingos with razor-sharp beaks.
The "mountain" turns out to be a volcano when it erupts and kills a dozen tributes. This Perfect Day by Ira Levin features a seeming utopia with no poverty, hunger, violence, or fear. Everyone is happy, helpful, and content.
But they're all being drugged and genetically engineered to be so, controlled by a supercomputer that in turn is controlled by a secret cabal of immortal "programmers" who live in luxury, apart from the rest of society. Harrison Bergeron , a short story by Kurt Vonnegut. Life is happy, neat, nice and comfortable. Unless you're too far above average, in which case you get to meet the Handicapper General.
James Bond novels are almost always getting hit hard with this trope. Being a Spy Fiction , James Bond novels particularly set in glamorous cities where it seemed to be nice, but people here and there have bizarre moralities all over the place , and the action scenes can turn any place into this.
John Dies at the End 's climax takes place in an alternate dimension, where humans live in harmony with nature, having harnessed biotechnology. Kittens are used as relaxing healers. There is no fighting, there is free love and peace. Oh, by the way, said humans are horribly deformed and would love to introduce you to their evil God, who maims entire planets of those who resist and eats people wrapped in bacon. There's a reason why the protagonist deems it "Shit Narnia". The descriptive part of Georges Perec's W or the Memory of Childhood , starts off with the eponymous island portrayed as an utopian land ruled by sport.
As it goes into detail, the text descends into the description of a horrendous land of slavery and madness, allegory of German concentration camps, in which some of Perec's relatives had died. The Giver is set in a Community which seems to be harmonious, peaceful, and happy. Family units share their feelings, politeness is mandated, and everyone is given a task that suits them. But when Jonas receives memories of what the world was like before, he learns that the Community has completely sacrificed choices, colors, individuality, even love.
And when he discovers what it means to be Released to Elsewhere , he realizes that the Community has even traded away basic human dignity and respect. The Land of Oz from L. Frank Baum 's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is considerably more crapsack than one would first think, what with half of the land being under the brutal oppression of two wicked witches, and the Emerald City being a lie in every inch of its being.
Things improve in the later books, though, especially under Ozma. The books also give us some others. For instance, the land of the Mangaboos, a beautiful land with glass houses and lit by six colored suns it's belowground , and inhabited by beautiful vegetable people. Except that said vegetables are heartless and horrifyingly xenophobic, trying to destroy anything that enters their land that's not a Mangaboo.
Or the Valley of Voe, full of kind, good-hearted people, natural beauty, delicious fruit that grants invisibility The world of the Kindar in the Green-Sky Trilogy starts here. It's a peaceful utopia where there is no overpopulation, hunger, homelessness, everyone's employed there is an option for people to change careers, but it's seldom used , crime is so rare as to be a curiosity, violence is unheard of even two-year-olds squabbling over a toy is a sign of bad parenting , and everyone has Psychic Powers.
Scratch the surface and we get widespread narcotic use in the form of a ritual berry , the psychic powers are fading at earlier ages than ever the protagonist thinks he's merely average when it turns out he's probably the most powerful psychic on the planet , everything is run by the Ol-Zhaan, the Ol-Zhaan run by a secret cabal in its ranks, and one huge Big Lie keeping all in place.
Raamo's recruitment was part of a Batman Gambit on D'ol Falla's part to atone for her actions as the grandmistress of the cabal, and once the Big Lie is uncovered, things start to heal up. The Wizarding World in Harry Potter starts as a wondrous, perfect place, and an escape for the main hero from his dreary and miserable life.
Then it is gradually revealed that the government is often incompetent; the state prison is a hell-hole where psychological torture is par for the course; keeping slaves is a common practice; and slurs about blood status are thrown about freely by the primarily pureblood upper class. It turns out Voldemort isn't so much a person that totally goes against the ways all wizards think, but merely exemplifies the flaws of their society Up to Eleven.
There's even mention that a noticeable amount of people in Wizard society were on Voldemort's side until they saw how far he was willing to go. Genua from Discworld , when Lily Weatherwax oversees it.
On the surface, it looks like a happy, shiny fairy tale kingdom Toymakers are thrown in jail if they aren't able to tell little stories to the children "like they should," thieves are beheaded on first offense, and the Assassin's Guild has packed up and left " because there are some things that sicken even jackals. The Book of D'ni.
It looked like such a fantastic place to live — until it was learned that it was built on the backs of slaves who were killed if they made a sound or even saw a slave of the opposite sex. And just in case, they were all neutered, and the Terahnee were trained not to even see them. Le Guin 's The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas is like this — everyone is happy and rejoicing, and then you find out that all their happiness depends on this one child being continuously, abjectly miserable.
That child is kept hidden in a basement, starving. And every adult knows about it. The ones who walk away are those that can't bear the knowledge and leave, though it's hinted they're going to somewhere better. Magnificent beauty and nonstop fun from the moment you turn sixteen onward.
At the price of government psychos putting lesions in your brain and Super Soldiers after anyone who thinks for themselves. Wells ' The Time Machine: He later discovers that the Eloi's way of life is sustained by the subterranean Morlocks, who raise the Eloi on ranches like this and feed on them for sustenance and the Morlocks are arguably the more sympathetic of the two. Robert Silverberg's The World Inside. Everyone lives in gargantuan apartment blocks "urban monads" with names like ChiPitts and never goes out.
The entire human race is obsessed with having as many children as possible — one protagonist is ashamed of having only four. It is seen as selfish and therefore, criminal to refuse sex to random strangers. And everyone is really, really happy all the time Brandon Mull seems to revel in this.
His Fablehaven series starts off cheerfully, with a rather enchanting premise a nature preserve full of magical creatures! Solve your grandparent's candy-coated mysteries to find out more! His standalone novel The Candy Shop War is similar, starting out with the Sugar Bowl concept of magical candy and ending up with several near-homicides, Body Horror , Bad Future , and much more. Franz Kafka 's Up in the Gallery concerns a circusgoer who comes to realize the bright show going on in front of him isn't what it seems.
Here's what's visible through one of the demon's doorways in Nocturne: It's not actually any better, but it's better at hiding how screwed up it is. The Galaxy from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is very effectively portrayed this way in most of its incarnations. It's a shiny, glistening wonderland of incredible science, technology, and living commodities It is also gradually revealed that only the very well-to-do ever get to take advantage of such commodities anyway, a large majority of Galactic citizens being penniless hitchhikers.
It's a beautiful utopian future, Earth is green and healthy, every single problem is taken care of, anyone can get the Nobel Prize, people can control weather, their own looks, and their own lifespan without much trouble Tranai is a planet where everyone is happy: Pam Bachorz's Candor where life is idyllic and teenagers behave until you find out that everyone is being controlled by Messages played in music that brainwash them without even realising it.
In the picture book Hey, Al. Al and his dog, Eddie, are transported to a magical utopia ruled by birds. Their life there is at first heavenly, but soon becomes terrifying as they realize they are slowly being turned into birds themselves. Think of Pleasure Island from Pinocchio , but even more freakish. Alypium from Erec Rex is a bright, shiny Magical Land full of humor, wonder, and all sorts of charming happenings. It's all a hotbed of fiery racism, conspiracy, deep-seated political corruption, and murder.
The refugee rabbits, after a hazardous journey, are offered shelter in Cowslip's warren without even having to fight to get in. The rabbits there are all big and well-fed as there is plenty of food left out in the fields, and have even developed their own high culture, such as art and song.
The other rabbits get quite annoyed when their Waif Prophet Fiver insists the place is evil. It turns out the reason the food is left out in the field is that the warren's surrounds are intensively snared by the local farmer — the entire warren is one big rabbit hutch. TransTech 's Axiom Nexus sure looks like a utopia at first glance, compared to every other Transformers universe.
It's the only universe where the Civil War never happened, and millions of Cybertronians of all factions and universes live together in a shiny, high-tech city. In actual practice, however, the Civil War still exists From the viewpoint of The Other Light faction in the Left Behind book Kingdom Come , Jesus Christ's Millennial Reign is a utopia for "naturals" as long as they obey God's laws and become believers before they reach years of age — otherwise, they instantly die and go to Hell.
Over the course of time, the Other Light does manage to win enough converts with their manifesto claiming God Is Evil because of his years of age limit, so that the world at the end of the Millennium becomes a Crapsack World again, with the Other Light being a massive army ready to defeat God and Jesus Christ when Satan is released.
Guess how that turned out! Istar in Dragonlance eventually devolved into this, as most strongly illustrated by Time of the Twins and the Kingpriest Trilogy. Everything was more peaceful, orderly, and prosperous than anywhere else in the world or any other age- because the Kingpriest had mind-readers seeded throughout the general populace ready to arrest anyone who had evil thoughts.
The punishment for these arrests was to be Made a Slave , having a metal collar welded to your flesh and then pitted against other slaves in gladiatorial matches in the style of ancient Rome. Oh, and one of the Kingpriest's advisors was actively planning a genocide of dwarves, kender and other "lesser" species. The Great Gatsby show us that the world of the rich is not nice: Tom is a cruel bully because he knows his Glory Days are in the past and he suspects rightly enough that no one respects him, Daisy is a Stepford Smiler , both of them are adulterers , alone and scared, and they have to deal with Nouveau Riche delinquents like Gatsby himself — whose only defense is being less of a Jerkass than they are.
And the scary part is that Gatsby world is Real Life world. How many of us wouldn't jump at the chance to be rich even knowing this? Gatsby's life is also pretty crapsaccharine — he's a gregarious millionaire who throws lavish parties on a regular basis and lives in a huge estate, but everything about him is a lie. His name is actually James Gatz, he gained his fortune through criminal means, and none of his parties' guests give a damn about him, to the point that only two people other than Nick one of whom is his father attend his funeral.
He does all this to woo the love of his life away from her unfaithful husband, only to find that she is unwilling to leave him.
As a result, he winds up a deeply lonely and unhappy man. The book as a whole heavily deconstructs The American Dream , so it's not surprising that it illustrates how wealth can bring misery instead of happiness.
In the 24th century of The Unincorporated Man by Dani and Eytan Kollin, the entire Solar system has been colonized out to the Oort Cloud, Mars has been terraformed, and thanks to technology lifespans are measured in centuries and no-one goes hungry, unclothed or unhoused.
But everyone is at least partly property in which other people own stock, there's a near permanent underclass of "pennystocks" and everyone has a tracker implanted in them. Wright 's Count To A Trillion , Menelaus only slowly learns the underside of the world he was re-awoken in. He broke away from his clique. Rip apart what has been sewed.
Huwag mong kalikutin ang ilong mo. Don't poke your finger in your nose. The ball rattled in the box. Don't shake the eggs in the box.
The child sat on his mother's lap. Take the child on your lap. He just scratched his head. Just scratch your head. Just scratch a cat. He took shelter under the tree. Hide the clothes under the house. Sing on my birthday. Sing my favorite song. He groped in the dark. Grope for the flashlight inside the house. He held on to me. Put your hand on the child's shoulder. Hold on to each other's hands or you might fall. Frisk my pocket for some money. Frisk the pocket of the thief who was arrested.
They are fellow thieves. Slaughter some chicken for the fiesta. Slaughter the cow now. Kausapin mo si Pedro tungkol sa balak mo. Talk with Pedro about your plans. He waved at me before he left. His trousers got hooked on the nail. Be careful as you walk or your trousers might get hooked on the nail.
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