Yes, Earth is in the book. But, Earth has had a troubled past by this point in ‘history.’ Let’s look at an event on our home, in the ‘future.’
This was touched on in my blog regarding Richard, but let’s revisit this point from another perspective. Notice in this scene where Richard briefly inquires about events in Earth’s ‘past:’
As the elevator makes its ascent, Richard admires the intricate etchings on the smooth brass trim. When he reaches out to touch it, he is surprised to find the surface actually smooth, as if there is a transparent film protecting the etching. Richard touches the velvet. “When was this building built?” he inquires to Joe.
Joe thinks for a moment. “Well, actually, I think about seventy years ago.”
“I did not think this style of architecture was popular on your world then,” Richard comments.
Joe nods. “That’s the advantage of owning your own company: you can design your buildings however you want! I think one of the previous CEOs relished gothic architecture.” He refolds his arms thumbing the velvet behind him. “But, personally, I think the marble and brick here are just to make people jealous of how stupid rich this company must be!”
Richard nods. “Were they involved with the Cesium Convention?”
Joe shrugs. “Maybe. Officially, they didn’t get involved with military projects till after.” Joe looks at the ceiling. “Though, it wasn’t long after.”
Richard Tyberius & Joseph Pike
The ‘Cesium Convention’ represents a turning point in the history of mankind, and it also sets the conditions under which first contact is made.
When I first started this book, one of the things I found common with ‘first contact’ stories was that mankind often faced an unprecedented opportunity (and, unfortunately an almost formulaic response) when first contact was made. It basically boiled down to two or three realities:
-Mankind, at the peak of civilization, encounters (or is visited) by an alien race on Earth. Are they nice? Are they a threat? Often it doesn’t matter, because a war starts anyway, and whether mankind is enslaved briefly or simply brought to its knees, mankind prevails in the end.
-Mankind, at the peak of civilization, visits another world and discovers life, an alien species. Are they nice? Are they a threat? Often it doesn’t matter, because a war starts anyway, and whether mankind is enslaved or briefly brought to its knees, mankind prevails in the end.
-Mankind, in the present day (or why not, the past), is visited by an alien race. Are they nice? Are they a threat? Doesn’t matter because a war starts anyway, and whether mankind is enslaved or briefly brought to its knees, mankind prevails in the end.
The pattern is very similar with most first contact science fiction novels. They come, we attack (or not), and mankind is out on top in the end. Because, we’re mankind, duh.
I decided on a different approach.
First contact is not in the deep past, obviously, nor the present. It is still in the future. What changes is the circumstances on Earth when first contact is made.
Consider: If an alien race visited Rome in 80 A.D. versus 580 A.D., would there be a difference? In 80 A.D., Rome was the largest city on earth, likely in history by that point in time. Numbering over one million, this city was basically possible thanks pervasive engineering feats, such as aqueducts bringing fresh water from nearby mountains into the city with little effort, and public sanitation methods similar to our modern day (sewers, indoor plumbing, etc), making ‘city life’ possible on an unprecedented scale. The Flavian Amphitheatre (also known as the Colosseum), newly completed, would have been one of the largest public works projects commissioned at the time, and a spectacle in its own right. The Roman legions, after exhaustive retraining and improvement of military discipline, was not only one of the largest armies of the time, but one of the most capable, likely deployed in many expansion campaigns throughout the known world. However, the feared Praetorian Guard were likely still there in Rome, in defense of the Emperor. Rome was still on the rise, and could be said to represent the peak of humanity at this time.
580 A.D., not so much. By this time, the ‘splendor’ of Rome was long gone. The masses of people had likely depopulated Rome, possibly because of a lack of water and basic sanitation (I guess it wasn’t maintenance free), or simply general neglect. The large public works projects of the past had likely started becoming parts of other projects, thanks to stone theft, or were simply damaged in conflicts. The armies of Rome were no longer the fighting force they once were–at least in Rome. There was still a Roman ‘presence’ in the form of the eastern Byzantine empire, but its capital is on the site of present-day Istanbul (then, Constantinople. Why did Constantinople get the works? That’s nobody’s business but the Turks’).
These two realities surrounding one place shows how one can get a very different impression of Rome, depending on when you visit. Most first contact science fiction could be described as visiting Rome in 80 A.D. My book is covering a period of earth history more like 580 A.D. Rome.
So, it makes you wonder what first contact was like, since humanity is not at its peak.
Richard briefly references history on the matter regarding the Cesium Convention, making clear what brought humanity to this state:
Richard glances to his right, where he notes a sign remarking on the company’s 175th anniversary in business, celebrated a year earlier. ‘I see,’ he surmises, ‘I presume they were on the winning side.’ Richard nods, briefly staring into the foliage lining the road, a combination of native grasses, reaching two meters, a few large, well-cared for evergreens, and a strip, three meters wide, of perfect Bermuda grass along the edge of the curbed roadway. “I wonder,” he pulls out his digital assistant, requesting information on an event he calls the ‘Cesium Convention,’ the digital assistant returning information regarding a nuclear holocaust experienced on Earth more than one hundred fifty years earlier.
‘A nuclear holocaust’ could be considered an endgame scenario in most books. However, it doesn’t mean that everyone would die. It would be difficult to imagine a huge portion of mankind being spared of any injury or harm, but the event alone would represent a general step backwards. There is little that could easily survive such an event, and when we consider the many things that make the modern world possible, much in the way of tooling, techniques and experience could be lost. An example is most electronics or electronic devices are not hardened against an eletromagnetic pulse like that a nuclkear device could generate. THough far away even solar flares can have an effect, though this is usually more focused and actually more intense in nature. Given the potential loss of anything and everything using electricity, how much stuff could we build without electricity or refined metals?
Of course, it could also be viewed as an opportunity. Consider, there could not be a cleaner break from the ‘past’ than an event like this. Does is matter what was before the Cesium Convention, if this story takes place 150 years after that? I thought this would offer a realistic separation from any history before. Of course one could ask whether the positive influences from everything before are still there, among humanity. Or, if all the bad tendencies and desires are still possible after such a dramatic change. I will admit this book doesn’t have a chance to lay bare everything, but we will meet a few characters over the coming weeks, and by meeting them, and perhaps reading about them in the book, you can see for yourself how much (or even, how little) mankind has changed.
Next week, we will start with Richard’s best friend, Joseph Pike.
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