Story Idea: In Silico

Mark BallSid Jain contacted us with this idea for a science fiction story (or franchise). Sid is considering writing this, but is looking for some feedback, constructive criticism, and some pointers on how to make a start.

It looks like Sid has put a huge amount of effort into the worldbuilding for this novel (or series of novels), and it’s clearly a premise that he loves. So the official feedback from SciFi Ideas is “get writing, Sid!”, but readers should feel free to leave more specific feedback in the comments section below.

Historical Setting

In 2156, Earth launches an unmanned probe with the fastest fusion drive yet built towards a planet identified as potentially habitable by humans. 50 years later, when the information from probe has been sufficiently analyzed, the drive perfected and humanity stretching the limits of earth’s capacity to hold them, 9 ships were launched with almost 10,000 people each towards the planet. 3 ships were sent by the United States of America containing mostly Americans and some randomly selected hyper intelligent people from other American satellite states, 2 ships were sent by the European Union, 3 by the Special Chinese Economic Union and 1 by India. It was decided that all the ships would land at one location and begin humanity’s first extra-solar colony with the combined strength of the world’s people working towards building a strong foothold on the new planet.

But, during the long journey to the planet, 1 Chinese ship was destroyed and 1 EU ship never reached the planet surface and was lost to space. Further, the ships’ navigation systems malfunctioned and the remaining ships landed in different parts of the planet and not at the predetermined landing spot. The 3 American ships managed to land mostly in the same landmass, while the rest were scattered around the planet. The two remaining Chinese ships were the first to make contact with each other and one ship’s entire population made the long trek to the other ship, which was the flagship of the Chinese fleet. This became known as the Second Long March and resulted in many casualties. Eventually, each colony ship founded their own initial settlement and grew mostly independent of each other for the next hundreds of years. Over the next 2000 years, the city states grew powerful and began expanding, finally coming into contact with each other and forming a global trade network. The story begins around 2300 years after the ships first landed.

Present Day

6 city states have come up controlling most of the world’s resources. The three cities that arose from the American fleet were the first to begin sharing resources and formed an alliance. They became known as the Three Sisters. The EU city state grew to control an important trade junction between the ‘American’ cities and the ‘Indian’ city. The Chinese megacity grew completely cut off from the rest of the world for a long time before emerging as a high producing and relatively high population centre because of the jump start it got by joining the crews of the two remaining ships. The areas of the city states themselves are only a few hundreds of square kilometers, but each control a larger area surrounding them to include farms and mines which provide food and resources for the cities. Industrial farming and factory settlements have come up which are under a decentralized control by the cities.

Different cities have different policies on how they are managing their settlements and other cities in their area of influence. This will have to be worked on in more detail.

The Technologies of Colonization

To have been able to successfully colonize the planet, the people had to develop a few essential technologies.

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  1. The fusion drive to power the ships.
  2. Massive scale building made possible by nanotech self assembly. These nanoscale robots are capable of constructing things a million times their size in a bottom up approach. They were used to create and maintain the large colony ships and are used in factories on the planets to create the machines used for mining, farming etc.
  3. Human cloning: To provide cheap labor to the colonists for mining and farming. Different cities have different views on cloning. Some treat them as slaves, lesser humans. One chooses to not use clones at all. Some use them as help, but provide them with comforts and treat them as equals for the duration they are alive.
  4. Genetic Engineering: To remove the genetic defects that will accumulate because of inbreeding that will arise when the starting population is so low and to make the human body more resistant to the environment of the new planet.
  5. nanobotsBiomedical Engineering: Bionic supplements, cyborg parts, tissue engineering.
  6. Mainframes: All-knowledge encompassing computers which provide the plans, blueprints and schematics to build all the important machines, transportation, devices, buildings, structures known to man and will be linked to the nanobots to provide instructions for building almost anything.

Tentative Characters

The story will be told from the viewpoints of various characters spread out across the planet. One character is an Indian origin historian who is researching the evolution of technology that eventually allowed humans to be able to colonize a new planet. He is seeing startling coincidences in the way the most essential technologies were developed and begins seeing a pattern that he can’t quite be sure what it might mean. One character is a little farm girl in an ‘American’ settlement who gets involved in a local power struggle of a politician attempting to wrest control of his sector and eventually the city state. The politician is also going to be a viewpoint character.

Tentative Plot

Teleported obscureBasically, the whole conspiracy that the historian uncovers is that there is a race of hyper intelligent aliens who have developed the technology to teleport over vast distances. These aliens, once they invented this, find that they need very little energy to expend to teleport and thus had reached the pinnacle of their advancement, people could teleport all across the planet and beyond within seconds and they began to reach a utopia where the aliens did not have to work very hard for anything. They began to reach out across the stars and used powerful machines to provide the energy to teleport across star systems. Once they discovered earth, they took it upon themselves to ‘train’ and ‘guide’ this civilization towards the stars. They acted as benevolent angels to scientists and doctors working towards the advancement of technologies that would enable humans to travel across the stars.

Most of the major scientific advances starting 1800s+ to 2100s+ was nudged into direction by these randomly teleporting aliens who lived in hiding on earth. Examples, according to legend, Radioactivity was discovered by Henri Bequerel when he left a pile of Radium lying around an iron plate and when he came back the next day he found the iron had become black. Someone had left the iron conveniently lying around there so that he could come back and discover this (hint: it was the teleporting aliens). Hence we had radioactivity and in a few years the nuclear bomb and eventually the fusion drive. Similarly, Watson and Crick discovered the structure of the DNA while tripping on LSD when someone ‘came’ to them and enabled them to draw the structure of the DNA on a piece of paper. The next day, they realized that they were right and thus biotechnology was born. And many more examples like this are present throughout our regular history such as the discovery of penicillin etc.

The problem starts when some of the teleporting aliens turn out to not be so well intentioned. Some sabotaged attempts at world peace; some nudged the military towards more advanced weapons etc. Some even sabotaged the effort which the other aliens had been planning for over 500 years by destroying one of the generation ships and sabotaging the navigation controls of the others so they land in different parts of the planet. They planned that to be the start of a great experiment to see how humans would react now in a new environment with resources in abundance and a fresh start on a new planet. The benevolent alien faction reacted strongly to this in some way and so for the next 2000 years, the aliens had pulled back their involvement (or meddling) with the human race’s destiny and had allowed the humans to grow their science and culture naturally for the first time since the industrial age. At the start of the story, they begin to come back, and this time, someone will know they exist.

Sub plots will include: the hunt for clues to the presence of aliens in our scientific history by the historian that will eventually become the main plot at the end of the book; the political rise to power of the politician that will somehow ruin the life of the little girl and hence will set up her coming of age, hero’s journey, vengeance story arc; rise of militarism in the Chinese origin city (assisted by the mischievous aliens) and what that would mean for the other cities; flashbacks or parallel storyline about the journey of the ships in space and the initial founding of the settlements.

Questions attempted to be answered by this book

What will happen if humans are allowed to colonize a fresh habitat with a jumpstart given by technology? What kind of economic policies, sociology, politics will develop? War? What will motivate war? When everything is available in plenty, will there still be conflict? How much of Earth’s culture will be maintained in the colony?

Bigger questions to be asked (and attempted to answer)

How will humans react to being guinea pigs for aliens? How will our collective cultural consciousness be affected by the knowledge that most of our greatest achievements were almost spoon-fed to us? What will some greedy but short sighted powerful humans do when they have the opportunity to possess the wonderfully advanced alien technology? Will people still care about their petty local politics in the face of the knowledge that there is a hyper intelligent alien race out there that has already made first contact and whose rogue elements are using some humans to cause war for their own amusement?

Side questions to be revealed over the course of the book (series?)

What happened to the aliens in the intervening 2000 years? What happens to the aliens who reach earth? They obviously can’t go back, because they don’t have the powerful machines to beam themselves back home. How did they integrate into society and hide? Why did they do it? Why are some of them using us as experiments? What’s their purpose?

Biggest question to be answered

What is free will? How many of our decisions and actions are based on our own volition?

Ship Names

The Colony Ships and the cities that they founded:

The American Fleet:

USS Cerulean and the resulting city-state Ceruliana
USS Rubicon and the resulting city-state Aquilon

USS Ivory Tower and the resulting city-state Stone’s Fist (Stone is the name of the captain, more backstory here later)

The European Fleet:

UES Ries Verspen and the resulting city-state Neu Mures (pronounced Noy Mewress) [Name note: Ries means Large and Verspen is a contraction of Versprechen (german for promise) and/or Versperen (dutch for transplanting). Double meaning ftw.]
UES Firenze Feuer – lost in space.

The Chinese Fleet:

PLF Maozedong Zhufu and the resulting megacity Du-Jintou
PLF Long Hu – entire population migrated to Du-Jintou, quite a few perished
PLF Kongzhi – destroyed en route.

The Indian Ship:

IES Vishwamitra and the resulting city-state Osion

(United States Ship, Unifié Europa Servizion, People’s Liberation Fleet, Indian Exploration Ship)

Mark Ball It looks like Sid is about ready to write this novel (or series)! What advice can we give to help him with his epic quest?

  • Christmas Snow

    A very complex story, being made-up of many sub-stories or “ramifications” resulting from earlier historical events. Being such, it may be wise to write-down the story in “book series”, to my opinion. Dune, Startrek and Stargate are prime examples of “series”. Though the latter two feature a stand-alone story in each episode, films like “Star wars” run an introduction chapter presented as a rolling text on the screen. The rolling text provides the historical background of the previous film series. This may render reading each book a much easier task, to my opinion, and allow the reader to delve into each question with more detail.

    As to the story itself, you may need to explain some key events and how do they fit in a highly-advanced society:
    – The ships have landed in different locations. The two Chinese ships have managed to contact each other. Why the other ships could not, and the other societies have lived for quite long without knowing or contacting each other? What happened to explorers who looked for traces of the other colony ships?
    – Clones? Why need clones if nanotechnology provides the answer?
    – The need to control “Trade junctions” sounds feudalistic and may be a misfit, unless the societies have reverted to this way of life.
    – Did the aliens remaining on Earth for 2000 years or more attempt to join the travelers?

    • Sid Jain

      Thanks for taking the time to read through it!

      i agree with your assessment that a series of episodes would be the best way to tell the story. I was considering to start writing this in the form of short stories/novellas set in this universe. Build out the historical context in a ‘show don’t tell’ way by using historical-event specific ‘current’ stories to flesh out the mythology of the series. If I can write enough single person narrative novellas, I can then begin to see if there’s any chronological overlap possible that might add to the storytelling and then start merging the threads into cohesive ‘volumes’ that feel like they have a definitive start, middle and climax.

      The setting of the societies that I want to create is of a style that can be best described as ‘futuristic stone-punk’. Like steampunk, but with middle ages feel. No swords or horses, but buildings with very earthy, heavy structures. Also, by trade junctions I meant the kind of roles places like Singapore, Hong Kong and London perform. Strategically located between frequently traveled routes.

      At the time the ships crash landed, the malevolent aliens were still influencing the actions of the humans, so they arranged for the Chinese ships to crash nearby and conveniently contact each other.

      Not all societies use clones. The clones can be used for functions that nanobots/robots can’t perform or would not be preferred for… if you get my drift.

      That would be an interesting story won’t it? What if some of the benevolent aliens traveled and attempted to warn the humans? What if they continued doing good work and avoided the disaster Earth was heading towards and EArth made it through the 2000 years, where would THAT society be? Would it try to contact its fledgling colony?
      That’s one of the threads I have to think more about but will definitely keep at the back of my head.

      Thanks for your inputs! Really appreciate it.

  • Agreeing with Christmas Snow here.
    I think it would be a good idea to show some of the major “historical” events as stories so as to avoid large chunks of exposition. The whole “show, don’t tell” thing.
    They could be “episodes”, or prequels, or perhaps the whole thing could be told as an anthology of connected/related short stories.

    • David S Dawson

      I like the idea of this being presented in an anthology of collected stories. A series of origin stories, followed by a series of first person narrative stories, each book focused on a particular character’s journey in this Universe (potentially with relevant characters moving in and out of each other’s stories as players within that character’s narrative). If there is a logical interweaving of stories perhaps it is done where you bring together the characters for a book that concludes all the threads after you’ve presented each one’s individual story and have set up the importance of their journey’s that have lead to the defining moment in this universe.

      • Sid Jain

        That sounds like an amazing (and very easily do-able) idea that would be manageable for an amateur like myself to undertake without flaking out in the middle. Can you (or anyone) tell me of any other series/anthologies that have attempted a similar narrative structure?

      • Sid Jain

        Hey y’all, I started writing!

        Using Wattpad to keep me enthused to write periodically.

        http://www.wattpad.com/myworks/36680475-seraphina

  • Steven Lyle Jordan

    No colonists from the entire southern hemisphere of the planet? Come on! And personally, I don’t buy that a technologically-advanced people would view clones as “lesser” humans, and I doubt such a feudal system would last long.

    The aliens premise sounds interesting, but you’d better have a good explanation for why some aliens are benevolent, some are antagonistic, and why they all have access to the same experiment.

    • Sid Jain

      Hey Steven, thanks for checking out the idea! You’re right, it is a glaring omission to not have anyone from the soutehrn hemisphere. Must find a way to make that happen – also none from Africa, now that you mention it so must get representation there as well. Like I mentioned, the way people would treat clones will differ from society to society. That being said, I see where you’re coming from and I’m going to read more about how other authors have tackled the sociological aspects of cloning. I was influenced in this story by the way the clones are treated in the book/movie Cloud Atlas (which is a brilliant work of fiction), in which they are restricted to performing menial service tasks only as they have a limited lifespan and are rapidly grown in vats until they are of working age and live for only a few years after that.

      The explanation for the differing motivations in the aliens is simple. Different individuals have different motivations, goals and personalities. Some people just want to watch the world burn. There could be a faction of aliens that is working together towards a higher purpose to conduct the experiment, which is noble in their own eyes because to them we’re basically lab rats, while there could be another faction working together to help advance the human civilization because they consider us equals, or at least capable of becoming their equals, and there could be another group of independent travelers just roaming around earth, hopping around helping/hurting humans as they wish purely of their own accord for no greater purpose. So many possibilities!

      Thanks for the comment Steven! I’ll think about ways of incorporating a more inclusive group of colonization ships.

      • Steven Lyle Jordan

        Sid,
        Okay, I get the “Cloud-Atlas” idea that fully-grown clones would be considered expendable.

        But it sounds like the aliens have the same motivations (and flaws) as humans; they sound technologically advanced, but not very enlightened in use of their technology, their understanding of other civilizations, or their ability to control an experiment with a planetful of people. In other words, they sound exactly like us. I’d like to think aliens would be more… alien. With a different way to look at the universe than the same way we do. I’d love to see you think that through a bit more.

        • Sid Jain

          Steven,
          That’s a great thought that I must admit I didn’t consider initially, but have come to realize is a big challenge to overcome – how to create an alien consciousness that is by definition supposed to be at a higher level than us? I’m currently going through a reading binge of books on the history of science. I’m currently reading ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” by Thomas Kuhn. It sounds like a book that will give me an insight on what I should expect of the effect scientific advancement has on society.

          I’m also thinking of an interesting analogy – bear with me. I read a management jargon book called the ‘5 Levels of Leadership” in which the author describes the mannerisms and behaviours of different levels of leaders and how to progress from one level to another. It talks about how the lowest of leaders exert influence solely derived from their position of power and not through personal motivation and teambuilding. The middle level leaders tend to use more personal and hands-on approach to training and leading with result-oriented and teambuilding – oriented strategies. The highest level of leaders however, train other people to be leaders, and train them in such a way so that they train other people too, so that their influence expands exponentially. Taking it to the extreme, and considering these mannerisms for an entire species, we have humans today, at the top of the food chain and exerting influence over earth and other animals solely through the virtue of their position at the top of the food chain and focusing on the results and community building aspects of a civilization. A more advanced civilization however, would be looking to lead another civilization to greatness, would want to become a ‘level 5’ leader and help nurture another civilization to greatness. How does that sound?

          • Steven Lyle Jordan

            An interesting analogy for the relationship between the humans and the aliens. So why do some of these aliens just want to let Earth eat itself… what are their motivations? Selfishness? Profit? Spite? Or something… higher? Or lower?

            Are they afraid that humans will discover their race’s meddling and destroy them someday? Do they believe that manipulating other races is counter to their belief system? Does manipulating Earth upset the chromic balance of universal frequency? Or is it just a matter of one alien wanting to rule over the other alien, and so is pissing in his pot?

        • Sid Jain

          Steven,

          I started writing the story! It has evolved from what we spoke about and what is presented in this worldbuilding article. Hope you enjoy what I have till now!

          http://www.wattpad.com/myworks/36680475-seraphina

    • Christmas Snow

      It may be the aliens had different opinion over the “great plan for humanity” at some time in the process. The legend about Adam and Eve tempted by the devil to eat the forbidden fruit is regarded as such example: The genetic engineering of “evolving an ape into man” is told as the act of God creating man “from ashes”, and the devil appearing as the snake is a rebel alien, with his own “army” being presented as defiants of God.

  • Jack

    Mind if I take a couple ideas from this story for my own? I will change it to make it my own but I took some inspiration from this story.

  • Jack Hemsley 1

    I’d love to see a map of this planet.