Technology in SciFi: Star Trek, Star Wars, WH40K, and David Brin


Riddley Walker is up there.


IIRC, it’s literally intelligence (rather than technology) that is capped by the zones of thought, right? You could bring technology developed by greater intelligence from another zone into a lower zone with no problem. I also don’t recall a significant period of time being covered in Vinge, requiring an approach to addressing the march of time.


Yes, I think that’s correct, with the limitation that a lot of the really advanced tech required continuous advanced computation to make it work. Still, I think they did talk about flying starships towards the core, with the crew getting intelligence dropping off enough that they didn’t realize what was happening.


I’m admittedly not the most informed geek on 40K lore, but I do follow it a fair amount. I thought the setting always left it ambiguous as to whether all the mysticism around technology was truly needed or mere superstition. Demons are obviously real, but they’re a product of psychic activity and the extra-dimensional warp. Demons are never directly invoked by interacting with technology. Rather, the consequences would be angering the machine spirits and your Thunderhawk’s engines shutting down and crashing out of the sky.

As far as I understand it, it’s open whether mysticism (e.g., a hypothetical Litany of Boot-Up that should be chanted before booting up your laptop) is:

  1. completely unnecessary superstition. To the extent “machine spirits” exist, it is semi-sentient AI that isn’t recognized as such.

  2. absolutely necessary. Angering the machine spirits can lead to all kinds of problems from a failure to boot to the machine blowing up in your face.

  3. A cynical power-play known only to the highest orders of the Priests of Mars. Everyone else fervently believes it’s 2), but it is really 1).

My recollection, for example, is that in the Horus Heresy books (of which I admittedly have only read like 2-3 of the 100s that they’ve seemed to have written), there isn’t any of the mysticism surrounding technology, and yet everything still works.


I thought they could be, that openings in the warp had made it stupid easy to accidentally summon something you really didn’t want to. But then I am probably less well read on the lore than you, so it’s entirely possible that I am wrong. Luckily I think some experts on the matter hang out in these parts, maybe one of them can clear this up for us.


In one of the Gaunt’s Ghosts books (Ghostmaker?), they encounter a STC that can make robot warriors but it was corrupted by Chaos. I don’t know if that means technology can invoke chaos or that chaos can infect machines. I think they try to be careful and not make anything certain in that fictional universe - so they can change it if they want.


It is never clear what is, as you say, semi sentient AI and what is the demonic. Or whether there is nothing there at all. The exact import of the litanies and rituals is kept deliberately ambiguous by the writers, I think, and the fiction is better for it.


In about 20k humanity was expanding throughout the stars, and AIs were common and it was the Dark Age of Technology. They then invented the Men of Iron, which were AI/androids and all was well. The Men of Iron then went to war with humanity and many suns were destroyed and planets eaten by nanoswarms and humanity realised AIs were bad and made them taboo. All this contributed to the start of Age of Strife when humanity hit its psychic potential and demons manifested, warp storms cut off the galaxies, the remaining AIs warred, aliens invaded and humanity fell. Until 30k when the Emperor unified Terra and then conquered the galaxy. AIs were still banned by technology wasnt deified and mixed up with superstition. One Heresy and 10,000 years saw it tech degenerate to grimdark mumbo-jumbo but then they woke a Primarch and released a new Adeptus Mechanicum rulebook and there is new tech and new rules and maybe AIs and forbidden tech isnt so forbidden any more and we now have hover tanks, new marines inc orbital assault troops, and AdMech warping planets about, mysterious groups of Kastellan robots roaming the galaxy independently and all sorts of shiny high tech stuff.


Absolutely agreed. I love that there are no good guys in 40K. The imperium is a bunch of fascist, bigoted, backwards apes. And they’re humanity’s last hope.


Roboutes woken and he’s like “urgh I hate gothic, everything is so ornate and overworked and omg, those flying dead baby things are just gross man”


I somehow totally forgot about Dune when I was creating this topic. I love the whole sweep of the Butlerian jihad and how he created evolutionary pressures to expand the abilities of man. Herbert shows the sweep of technology overtime as a movement away from machines to man being the pinnacle of technology.


Yeah, cherubs make servo-skulls look downright cute. Creepy as hell.


Even the term Butlerian Jihad evoked a religious fervour and holy war against the machines. It was a short description in the novels, but inspired so much in my imagination.

and then I read the Dune Prequel version. sadface.jpg


Oh god, just skip any Dune novels not written by Frank Herbert. And even a few that were.


There is a theory called the great filter, which basically says reason we haven’t met aliens is that nobody can cross the thresholds required for space exploration.

There is a very large chance that FTL is impossible, and that the wastness of space will never be crossed, which might be a reason why we’re not all conquered by Klingons by now


Or perhaps a much more likely answer is that our galaxy isn’t packed with sentient races. What if there is only one or two advanced civilizations in the galaxy? Even if you could travel at 100x the speed of light, the galaxy is really, really big a it would be very easy to miss each other.


Mining of the gas giants has to be in the future. Large scale electrolysis of water has some funky implications about that precious non-renewable resource. Helium is taken way to much for granted and the implausible we have any helium at all - simply a chance occurrence of millions of years of sedentary deposition, tectonic activity and the availability of radioisotopes decaying - is often overlooked (seeing helium in kids balloons basically makes me angry at this point). Access to large quantities of helium and hydrogen will be essential in the future. And fortunately we have a (by human standards) nearly limitless supply in the solar system. Ships that run to gas giants could easily refill their engines at the station and return to earth, cutting the amount of weight and fuel by a big margin. It’s just setting up the whole underpants stealing operation that will be a significant investment.


From what littlI I’ve read and studied this probably has more to do with mass than life. Earth is bizarre in that it is tectonically active, with a strong magnetic field, but is also compact and light enough that it’s possible to lift rockets into orbit. I’ve read things - but tbh haven’t really verified them - that assert that even 50% heavier (ie more massive) earth would be impossible to reach orbit. Th remarkableness of Earth is that we also have access to almost every element in the periodic table. You can imagine plenty of possible scenarios where a civilization has access to iron but not copper, or is missing crucial elements. We for ex. would not be able to do what we have done with huge supplies of relatively easily available hydrocarbons. Give us Earth sans hydrocarbons and we’d basically be stuck in the 19th century.


Meanwhile, on another planet…

“Pfft, can you imagine how technologicall backward the people would be on a planet where they didn’t breathe methane and it didn’t rain diamonds?”


If it rains methane and diamonds, you (as a methane breathing blob!) are unlikely to have access to iron!