Dear Pen Pal
Outline for a science-fiction video series
The prime premise of this science-fiction space epic is:
No FTL, nor time travel. In partial recompense you get time dilation and mass/energy conversion. Space is in consequence BIG; each little rock seems a world to those living there.
This series shall have NO MAGIC GIZMOES. If a device must break physical law, then it does not appear on this series, except as fraud or dream. FTL in particular will be an eternal mirage which all seek and none find. 186000 miles per second; it’s not just a good idea, it’s the Law.
More magic bans: no ‘subspace radio’, no transporters, nor reactionless drives, no anti-gravity or artificial gravity other than acceration or spin; no shields, no duplicators, no universal translators, no tractor beams, no pressor beams, no shirtsleeve spacesuits, no force fields, no stasis fields, no time-reversal, no anti-aging, no time travel, no time paradoxes, no precognition, no mind control, no telepathy, no telekinesis, and above all –
NO INTERSTELLAR TRADE, WAR OR GOVERNMENT!
In particular, no galactic empires. In the “Dear Pen Pal” cosmos, ambitious governments shall forever strive to break the light barrier – in vain!
With all those neato-kean plot gimmicks off-limits, what can we imagine? Answer: science fiction! This series shall keep a simple but hard discipline; all of its tricks must be consistent with known physics. Let’s find the Sense of Wonder in the universe as it is!
Possible topics: SETI, radio information trade, relativistic speed limits, relativistic time contraction, mass/energy conversion, cyberspace, telepresence, AI, robots, nanotech, space mining, space settlements, terraforming, interplanetary politics.
It is an exchange of radio messages between two radio astronomers; one a Human, the other a Centaurian. It takes light, swiftest thing in the universe, over four years to fly from one world to the other; so the dialog (one message per show, from alternating main characters) is long and slow. I figure about 20 shows before the main characters die at an advanced age, and the series ends.
The main characters never meet; space is too vast, speeds too low, life too short. All they can do is exchange radio signals. In each show, the narrator tries to explain its own world’s ways to the skeptical alien listener. The result is a plea for tolerance – indeed, relativity. The Centauri says, “Why should we call each other monsters for differences of bad habit? We are not monsters, just because we eat out young. You are not monsters, just because you wage wars.”
This series is an epic, not an adventure. Neither astronomer leaves home, nor needs to; they can already send and receive data at the speed of light. Therefore each has a complete view, from home, of their entire stellar system, and the ways of those within it. Each narrator tries to share this view with the other – with middle success.
Relativity imposes strict limits on plot. Interstellar travel is possible, but slow, laborious, dangerous and expensive. At most only a few ships go, carrying very small items like germs plasm and nanotech. Radio communication is much faster, safer and cheaper, and even that frustratingly slow. “Data trade”, even of genetic code, is much easier than physical contact. This this series is, in its own terms, both diplomacy and trade.
In DPP, space is huge, slow, and hazardous. (The ‘air problem’.) Vacuum require spacesuits; decompression and radiation are constant hazards. All space colonists must pay for food, rent, and air.
One civilization per star; government fails at interstellar distances, genepools diverge. Interstellar contact limited by distance and time.
Propulsion systems; mass driver, ion drive, nuclear rocket, light sail; all sublight.
Nuclear technology is a commonplace in spacefaring society, and in consequence so are nuclear dilemmas. In a stellar system, intercolony politics are dominated by M.A.D; nuclear pulse lasers ensure line-of-sight lightspeed destruction. Humanity’s dilemma is that all wars shall now, thanks to Einstein, have to be cold wars, or genocidal. In fact most human conflict is by economic resource manipulation.
The Centauri have different dilemmas because their evolution took a different path. They have no war as we know it (a practice they scorn as a barbaric relic) but they do practice cannibalism. In some respects they are our moral superiors, on other ways not.
Centauri politics are conditioned by bioloigy; the Centauri are a metamorphic species, starting out life as a single-celled sea animal, growing up through all stages of evolution. In effect a single animal, with immense developmental variation, dominates the entire Centauri ecology in all niches. We do not know if we are conversing with the most advanced form.
(Compare this to Blish’s “A Case Of Conscience”; but here planetary ecologies shall extinguish ideologies, and not the other way around. Note also Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Dispossessed”, for her acute linkage of FTL with empire. Einstein outlawed interstellar empire!)
They’re white. Paper-white.
Full ontogenic recapitulation.
Cannibalistic; eating a victim acquires victim’s skills and memories.
Ultimate sanction not death but ‘inedible’ labling.
No wars, instead predations.
Dextrorotary proteins, so they can’t eat Terrans
They’ve been attempting FTL for 17000 years without success.
They have molecules and germ plasm to sell.
They admit visitors but do not tolerate colonists.
Like the Terrans, they’re glad FTL is impossible.
Both Terrans and Centauri agree that lightspeed limits are good for both of them; without such limits, they would find each other uncomfortably close.
The Human comments, “The more science fiction I read about interstellar empire, the more glad I am that God made Einstein traffic cop!”
Eight years later Earth got the reply, “What is Einstein? What is traffic cop? What is science fiction? What is empire? What is God?”
List of Shows. H = Human, C = Centauri, # = age of narrator
H 10 “SETI” Series pilot, groundrules, intro.
C 10 “Radio Trade” Series pilot 2, Centauri
H 19 “Blue World” Homeworld tour
C 19 “Uncer 3 Suns” Homeworld tour
H 28 “Jupiter” Travelogue
C 28 “Beta Centauri” Travelogue
H 37 “Project Mars” Terraforming
C 37 “Nanotech” molecules for sale
H 46 “Cyberspace” VR and telepresence
C 46 “Robot Rights” Alien AI politics
H 55 “The Clone Question” Biotech ethical dilemmas
C 55 “The Air Problem” Food, water… and air
H 64 “Murphy’s Law” Gremlins and other mishaps
C 64 “Please Explain” What are money, war and religion?
H 73 “M.A.D.” Interplanetary Cold War
C 73 “In Good Taste” Virtual Cannibalism
H 82 “The Light Barrier” 300000 k.p.s. – it’s the Law
C 82 “Report from Tau Ceti” Signals from further out
H 91 “Time’s Arrow” Ageing. Finale 1
C 91 “Deathsong” Finale 2