Starting Point: The Third Generation Problem


It’s known as the “Third Generation Rule”: The degree of social discipline needed for a space habitat to survive indefinitely is beyond the capability of “normal” human societies. The human tendency to favor short-term expediency will, over time, make the habitat ecosystem more and more precarious.

In other words, people tend to put off to tomorrow, maintenance that needed to be done today. That most space habitat colonies are all doomed to disaster and failure. And the first ones did collapse and collapse brilliantly. Some of the first ones were setup in a more laissez-faire, home to free thinking individuals style. Let the robots maintain everything and we will live as God has intended. The last collapse was the one that lead to what we have today. Someone managed to sneak a nuke onto the colony. Thank Newton the colony was in Earth’s leading Trojan point and not one of the Lagrange points of the Earth-Luna system.

These days, we monitor behavior, modify behavior, and weed out those individuals that could cause problems for the habitat. That’s my job, I’m a psychoanalyst for the local behavior modification company, 3rd Gen Behaviors. We modify folks’ behaviors so that they help keep the colony intact and operating. All for one and one for all. We even monitor ourselves and modify as necessary. I’ve been modified so many times I’ve lost count.

We don’t remove behaviors, we change their focus. If you’re aggressive, we move your focus from harming others to trade or research. Everyone on Capstone Station has been through our doors…

Well, almost everyone. Capstone is a privately held corporation, owned by the Patel family. For the most part they are good people, but, they’ve never been modified. They are above the rules they set for everyone else.

So of course, we all know what would happen. The scion of the Patel family, Emil Patel, was caught destroying colony property, that is, he was burning a tree in one of the parks. And now, I have to convince his father, Roger Patel, CEO and Chairman of the board of the Captsone corporation, that his son needs modifying…

What issues will the narrator run into with Mr. Patel? Is it right for the colony to modify the behaviors of its residents to prevent the “3rd generation rule”? Will Emil even be punished and his personality modified? There’s more information on the Third Generation Rule at the Atomic Rockets site.

Written by John Reiher

Artwork by Don Davis, NASA ID Number AC75-1883


  • Leonardo Faria

    In my country November is the month of the most important SF writing contest, the Urania Award. No short stories, but a thoroughgoing novel of, say, 75-80.000 words! I happen to have the time and the desire to pick up the gauntlet and try to write and send it in two months. Quite a challenge, but hey, challenges are the spice of life. I think I’ll spend this afternoon thinking over this starting point in sight of the chance to turn it into a novel. Behavioral sciences are my cup of tea in scifi reading/writing.
    The “above the rules they set for everyone else” issue, though, needs imho a better justification than sheer arrogance or power. There’s the rub, corporate power doesn’t work like feudalism.

    • Leonardo Faria

      Since the collapsing colony scenario is a little vague, I’ll integrate the “third generation rule” with the “settler systemic entropy principle”. Any extraterrestrial settlement tolerates only a certain amount of disorganization. Past the critical point, and provided the system balance won’t be offset by outer factors, the functionality of the whole gets beyond recovery, and moves increasingly faster to its own disintegration.

      • John H Reiher Jr

        Basically, it means that the colonists stop making sure the robots are functioning correct, they tend to ignore obvious problems and don’t report them promptly. Basically, anything that doesn’t immediately inconvenience them directly is someone else’s problem. The “Colony” will fix it. Only, it won’t.

        • Leonardo Faria

          Anyway, from the starting point itself, seems to me that the existential threat to the survival of the colony is posed also by the occasional (and uncontrolled) emergence of more worrisome antisocial behaviors than just mere negligence (I’m thinking of a full covert gang of young hooligans headed by Emil Patel). And under the thuggish dealings of these people I’d like to imply their deeds are a reaction to a concept of “behavioral optimization” (the psychiatrist’s task) poorly consistent with our notion of freedom. Much of Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, here…

          • John H Reiher Jr

            Leonardo, I heartily encourage you to write that novel for November! Good luck on the contest and I will love to see it once your done with it!

  • Kirov

    A nice starting point! Perhaps Emil is murdered and our character is implicated in the tragedy. He then becomes a fugitive chased after by mysterious evil-doers who continue to try to frame him and get him killed. He flees to Luna but is pursued regardless. Just as he’s about to succumb to his pursuers latest attempt on his life, he is rescued by a time-travelling space ship, and he later enlists in the time-travelling, special operations task force that saved his life.

    Sorry, I couldn’t help myself. It just really reminded me of the Golden Rule for those who are familiar with it. Its a nice starting point though, and sets up an interesting universe with the way the space stations work.

    • Leonardo Faria

      Well, it easily suggests just on reading a cool 10 steps outline, which is already quite a start. Runaway characters are bad clients to deal with, however. It’s all action, and you have to have the ball always rolling.

  • Bill

    This is a great starting point to get into the problem known in social philosophy as ‘the problem of the commons’- wherein users of shared space and shared resources consider only their own interests rather than those of the larger social group given shared ‘ownership’- made all the more acute here by the fact that the group involved is floating around in a giant tin can that is in essence a ticking time bomb with extinction at the other end of the timeline. The behavior modification aspects could easily lead you into something like “Logan’s Run”. I think if I were continuing the story I would focus on the dilemma for the father faced by the actions of his son, ultimately being unable to authorize his behavior modification in spite of the fact that he has obviously authorized the same for everyone else, highlighting in stark contrast the haves and have-nots aspect of the setting. And I’m not really sure where that might take me…