Good stories are about people Good science fiction stories are about science and people. So how to you put good science into a story that is about people? That’s what this book is about. It’s about looking for how science changes peoples’ lives, and how to make that change an interesting story about people. This is about making Technofiction—science fiction where science matters as much as characters. Welcome to a Tales of Technofiction book.
A point I have made elsewhere is that mankind is now evolving to become better adapted to fit in the ecological niche he himself has created: The niche of “civilized man.” Like some other species throughout the history of the Earth, mankind has discovered how to significantly alter his environment to make it more favorable for himself. This means mankind is a boom species. Other famous examples of boom species are corals that make giant coral reefs and pine trees that make large spans of pine forest by acidifying the soil. Mankind is making the world civilized and in so doing is “booming” and controlling a larger and larger percentage of the biosphere. In the short-term this is great! Mankind is not the first species to “boom” and it won’t be the last, but it is important to understand the consequences of being a boom species. The consequence I will talk about in this essay is that mankind is no longer evolving to be well adapted to an “average” environment—by which I mean a non-mankind-influenced environment (which I call a “pristine environment”). He is, instead, evolving to be well adapted to a mankind-influenced environment (which I call a “civilized environment”) and as mankind becomes more civilized this civilized environment will drift further and further from a pristine environment. This means that over time mankind will come to depend more and more upon civilization to survive at all. This means that at some point in the future, say five or ten generations from now, if civilization collapses and disappears mankind will suffer mightily and could go extinct. An example of how civilization is affecting humanity’s gene pool: Human head size at birth. Human infants tend to survive better after they are born if they are well developed before they are born. Over many generations of humans evolving, this has pushed fetus head size to the point that getting it down the birth canal is risky—a significant percentage of human death is caused by large-headed babies getting stranded on the way out at birth. Evolution tolerates this because the benefits if the baby does make it out successfully are huge. The civilized ecological niche allows big-headed babies to get out with less risk—they are either helped down the birth canal by other humans and human devices or they are allowed to bypass the birth canal entirely and come out C-section. Either way, a serious constraint on baby head size has been removed and we can expect the average baby-at-birth head size to grow even larger over the next few generations. Once this growth has happened, the average human mother will die at childbirth unless she has her baby in a civilized environment. Humanity will have become adapted to the civilized ecological niche not the pristine ecological niche. This is one example of many. Developing Gene Pool Insurance: Neolithic Park Science and science fiction writers have given a lot of bandwidth to discussions of being prepared in case an asteroid strikes Earth. But asteroid strikes are just one of thousands of ways the Earth’s ecology and mankind’s civilization could be disrupted. I propose an insurance program that’s more general-purpose in its coverage. I propose that we set up a program to protect a homo sapiens gene pool that is well adapted to living in Earth environments that are not civilized. I propose ... Neolithic Park The goal of Neolithic Park is to preserve human gene pools that thrive in non-civilized environments. Again, this is an insurance program ... just like the Seed Bank ... just like flood insurance. In this insurance program we are insuring that there are human beings living on Earth in various places who will survive handily if civilization collapses for any reason. In some ways this program will be easy to implement: We already have people living successfully in near-Neolithic conditions in remote parts of the world. In other ways it will be very difficult: It is the emotional impulse of many civilized people to view someone living in uncivilized conditions as someone who needs help. If a program is set up with the goal of intentionally keeping people living in such ‘barbaric” conditions it will be criticized for many reasons. In fact, dealing with criticism of the park’s methods will be the most challenging part of making this program work.
In Roger’s words, “More than most people, I’ve ‘been there and done that.’ And while I was doing it, I was taking notes.” Roger is a careful observer of the human condition, technology, and history, and this is what he writes about. He was a soldier in Vietnam in the sixties, an engineering student at MIT in the seventies, a personal-computer pioneer in the eighties, and a writer, traveler, and teacher in the nineties. He has visited twenty countries and worked in five. He has worked in five industries with both superstar and falling star companies. He’s seen a lot. Other Fun Facts about Roger • Helped engineer the Space Shuttle • Climbed 4,000 meter peaks in the Colorado Rockies and bicycled from Boston to Minnesota • Is a nephew of Margaret Bourke-White, photographer for Life magazine • Has a commercial pilot’s license with an IFR rating • Was one of the first hundred people to play Dungeons