Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Trantor or Rivendell?

       Trantor or Rivendell?

           Check out:

           “Is Time Us, Space Them?”

           They ask; which is better, a “Time” civilization of a mere 100,000 people, which lasts a billion generations, or a “Space” civilization of 1,000,000,000,000 people which lasts a mere hundred generations? It’s the same number of people but differently distributed in time and space.

           Most of the people on that thread preferred the Time civilization; but I, in contrarian mode, wrote:

A civilization of a trillion doesn’t go ‘extinct’, any more than the Roman Empire did; it ‘falls’, which means that some of the people survive, but the way of life goes away, and there are successor civilizations, which inherit some of the founding civilization’s ideas and values.

Whereas that billion-generation backwater sounds deadly dull; and it will go extinct, all the way, its people and its ideas too. Why even bother living there? It was never alive in the first place!

I think the Space civilization will have a bigger positive cultural impact on the galaxy than the Time civilization… even after a billion generations!

So I personally prefer the Space civilization over the Time. Trantor rocks, Rivendell flops.

           The names “Rivendell” and “Trantor” are references; the first, to the Elvish town in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy; the second, to the planet-spanning galactic capital city in Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” trilogy .

           In my email I overstated the case. Details matter. First, let’s change the numbers a bit. As is the census proposed is:

           Rivendell: 100,000 citizens; 1,000,000,000 generations.
           Trantor: 1,000,000,000 citizens; 100 generations.

           But then Rivendell has too few people, and it changes too slowly. With 100K people, they have maybe a small college, two theaters, a business district, and it all shuts down at 11 p.m. Bo-ring! In fact the Council of Rivendell would consciously use boredom as a means of population and political control. Dissidents either get out of town or kill themselves. Imagine this Peyton Place of a townlet lasting for tens of billions of years! They’d have to pack up and move when the sun burns out; and meantime erosion and mountain-building is a major threat. If the landscape changes but the city doesn’t, then isn’t Rivendell literally dumber than the rocks?

           And as for Trantor; a trillion people would need to colonize distant worlds; so in what sense would it be ‘a’ civilization?

           So I propose this revised census:

           Rivendell: a million people, a million generations.
           Trantor: a billion people, a thousand generations.

           The first is a fair-sized colony, lasting for tens of megayears, a longish species lifetime. So this is a Local Range; the Home of a Kind. The second is a world civilization, lasting for tens of kiloyears, about the length of history. This is a World Culture with a History.

           To keep Rivendell fresh, let’s make it a college town. Rivendell University, in its new location; they had to leave the old place (mega-volcano eruption) and build a new campus here. They’ve still settling in, it’s been only 1.7 million years. But despite Rivendell’s traditionalism, it manages to keep up with the times; for they accept students from all over the Solar system. How’s that for a happening place?

           And as for Trantor… there is no boredom on Trantor, and no shortage of rebels. Trantor is always up to something big; a war, a revolution, a reformation, a renaissance; political decay, cultural flowering, religious crises and scientific breakthroughs; and whatever Trantor does, it does it.

           Trantor never sleeps. So of course people will want to go to Rivendell  just for a bit of rest. But sorry, no uninvited visitors.

           So which would you prefer? Rivendell or Trantor? In this revised version Rivendell is at least a somewhat happening place; and Trantor has respectable longevity chops; and it’s a fair trade-off. The city is to the world as history is to deep time.

           I see a perfectly fine SF novel in this, with a single world inhabited by both a Trantor and a Rivendell. (Almost everywhere, from Trantor’s point of view; temporarily, from Rivendell’s.) To Trantor,  a thousand years is a long time; to Rivendell, a thousand people is a big crowd.

           Rivendell has changed locations several times, to keep up with the geography. There are abandoned fossil Rivendells, which other peoples dug up for treasure and technology; notably the precursors to the Trantor world-civilization. The word “Trantor”, to the Trantorians, means the name of their planet; and also mankind; and also ‘culture’, ‘peace’, ‘order’, and many other soothing ideals; with predictable tragicomic consequences.

           A spacelike civilization meets a timelike civilization; temporarily, locally; yet everyone in Trantor is affected by Rivendell, even on the other side of the planet; and Rivendell never forgot Trantor, even after mountains wore down.

           For one thing, they stole a lot of tech from each other. There may even be a tendency for Trantor to re-create another Rivendell, on a distant world; and a reciprocal tendency for Rivendell to recreate another Trantor, in the distant future.

           Rivendell’s rebels will leave, and will either vanish into obscurity, or find a Trantor  to influence. Rivendell’s influence on galactic culture is slow but cumulative; a trickle of exiled geniuses; Trantor’s influence is all at once.

           Perhaps a rebel Rivendellian will leave, mix with Trantor society, collect a cadre of likeminded malcontents, and then leave for a distant world, to found New Rivendell. (Where they will offer modern boredom!)

           Trantor’s rebels will go out, in waves after waves, each to form their own utopian Rivendells. Some of those Rivendells will go extinct, others will remain static, others will mutate into new Trantors.

           Rivendell is to Trantor as spore is to redwood.

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