Thursday, June 2, 2011

Cultural Imperialism and Causality

I'm just finishing up Charles Stross' Iron Sunrise, and - as I always do - was thinking about running this universe in a game. First off, it can almost be run in StarCluster 3 as is. The society is definitely a TL 10 society as presented in SC3, complete with Comm jewelry, personal networks, augmented reality, and morphing clothing. More importantly, it's not a monolithic society - each system, each world, is unique, and not part of any empire or greater polity. That's pure StarCluster!

Where I say "almost" though, is Stross' take on interstellar communications. Real time interstellar communications - unlike in StarCluster - are possible through so-called causal channels. which appear to be a variation on the twinned-electron/ansible theme. They are reliable, safe, and easy to use, just hellishly expensive! The reason? They cannot travel through FTL - they must go through real space-time, as FTL violates causality - at least potentially. So worlds are linked via these causal channels, as well as some non-ftl ships.

This has always bothered me, but Stross needs this in the book. The reason people aren't violating causality left and right is that Stross has a transcended computer, which long ago involuntarily dispersed humanity to the stars - and back in time - using information it sent back in time to itself by violating causality. This computer reserves the right to violate causality to itself, as a self-protection, so that multiple god-like machine intelligences don't rear their ugly heads to take him down.

Stross chose this way to control causality violation - basically by creating a god to swat any egregious violators - because he could also use this deus-ex-machina to help his PCs - I mean main characters - take down the big bads, and he needs the causal channels to allow his uber-computer to be ubiquitous in real time. I think it's sloppy GMing. He doesn't trust his PCs to be awesome when push comes to shove. I solved the problem of potential paradoxes in StarCluster by a different route.

I don't like the causal channels for a number of reasons, most importantly because they would tend to make cultures far too uniform, yet he posits a highly differentiated network of cultures. I think he can have one, but not the other. Real time communication is the key to making empires - whether political or cultural. Every empire spreads to the limit of its communication network, thus allowing real-time interstellar communication allows interstellar empire and cultural imperialism. A highly differentiated culture is anathema to any self-respecting empire! It's highly inefficient!

Still, pick this one up for the glimpse of a high Tech Level StarCluster culture in action! It's awesome! :D


No comments:

Post a Comment