At 2 in the morning I looked out and realised that I can’t see a single star from where I am. That was somehow profoundly depressing.

I was thinking about science-fiction. There seems to be a sort of ‘sweet-spot’ — too near to the present and things become an allegory for the here-and-now, and too far and some things become almost quaint. Why would we send ships full of people into the darkness when we could be sending robots instead? In a post-Singularity future, with neither mortality nor morality to constrain us, why even live, save for pleasure?

For me, the ‘sweet-spot’ would be in that initial push of colonisation. We push our best and brightest starwards, while the immortal elite remains on Earth. They can afford to wait till prime real estate has been settled, civilised, bought and paid-for, before they uproot and establish their fiefdoms among the stars.

After that initial push, though, who do we send? Maybe we just aren’t producing enough scientists and engineers to send ships full of them out to never come back. Maybe not all of them would want to.

So comes the second wave of settlers, people remarkable enough to distinguish themselves from the ruck of humanity, who can be trusted to operate the machinery (both mechanistic and social) necessary for terraforming, but who wouldn’t pose a threat to the elite. Less of an interstellar middle-class and more of an interstellar serfdom, tenant farmers, who can settle new worlds and who won’t live long enough to dispute their ownership, due to not having accesss to ruinously-expensive longevity treatments.

The sort of people who’d uproot and go anywhere, perhaps with their children — whether actual or merely in potentia, in banks of test-tubes ready for implantation into exo-wombs — in tow and on ice. They’d go not for themselves, but for their descendants. “I won’t live to see a terraformed LV-426, but maybe my children will” might be the prevailing sentiment. “In a couple hundred years I’ll be dead, and maybe then the elite of the Weyland-Yutani corporation who own this planet will arrive, and they’ll need functionaries, officials, minions and hangers-on. And that’s what my children will have to look forward to, but it’s OK, because it’s still a damn sight better than what they could expect staying on a doomed Earth without money.”

What kind of society would these people create? What kind of political, social, economic, technical challenges would they face? They might carve out bold frontier societies, but how long before those are gentrified? The near-future might hail as their heroes scientists and engineers, but it’ll still be bankers and businessmen who’ll end up actually owning everything.

Perhaps it’s a sign of the times that, given human trends regarding extreme poverty and consumerism, I look forward and see the greatest potential for storytelling to still be tales of decline.

It’s a little bit sad when faster-than-light travel seems more plausible than liberty, equality, and a kinder humanity.


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