Intergalactic expansion and empire building has been on my mind recently. Over the weekend, I just finished reading Providence by Max Barry, the Australian author who also wrote one of my other favorite books that I read ages ago, Syrup. A quick aside– on a very short list, Barry is definitely one of my favorite authors. I consider him an “ideas guy”– sometimes his storytelling goes sideways, especially in his third acts, but Barry’s ideas in Jennifer Government, Lexicon, and Providence are all superb and set him apart. At his best, he’s right up there with Robert Charles Wilson. (Spin by RCW is fantastic, by the way. RCW’s other books, though, I’ve never liked enough to even finish. But Spin is a legit tour de force.)
Anyway, reading Providence got me thinking: If humanity were to ever get off earth and escape our solar system to another one within our galaxy, it’d most likely be because we’d depleted all our earthy resources, right? Essentially, the human species had reached a point where we were consuming more than earth could replenish. (Which, I should note, given rapidly declining birth rates in all advanced, industrialized countries, is most definitely not a foregone conclusion.) But if it did happen, which resulted in humans flinging themselves across the far reaches of the cosmos, would that mean that humans –in aggregate as a species– are simply kind of like bacteria? We simply don’t want to die. So we’re going to try catapulting ourselves to somewhere else far-flung, reproduce and exploit all of the natural resources there, and then repeat the entire process all over again?
(A long-running trope in science-fiction, by the way, is that the wealthy and powerful flee earth one day leaving only the most impoverished and destitute here on whatever hollowed husk remains. It’s intriguing to ponder but I honestly don’t see the cookie crumbling that way. Space travel is just too risky and expensive. The rich people, my general take, will need to somehow figure out how to enjoy their end of days here on earth, which I argue is a good thing.)
Non-sequitur– Nation States! Max Barry developed this online game! Originally, as a PR stunt to promote Jennifer Government back in 2002 during his book launch. But then Nation States became its own bonafide hit! Barry is truly a brother from another mother. I’ve been contemplating this exact same idea for years now but Barry beat me by at least a decade! Social systems, government styles, political science, and group dynamics— that’s the good stuff.
PS. I also heap upon Mr. Barry my infinite gratitude for disabusing me of any romantic/naive notions I may have once harbored for running a massive online project like Nation States. I think I’m infinitely more enamored with the technical challenge of building a project like NS rather than actually dealing with the legion of randos that’d eventually/inevitably follow. I suspect Mr. Barry was too.