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The Evolutionary Perspective
Category Archives: Seasteading
Posted: January 19, 2022 at 10:52 am
What were selling is freedom, says a digital media executive played by Demi Moore, of the promise of virtual worlds in Disclosure (1994). We offer through technology what religion and revolution have promised but never delivered: freedom from the physical body; freedom from race and gender, from nationality and personality, from place and time.
Based on a Michael Crichton novel, the movie explores in classic Crichton fashion a theoretically possible but highly unlikely scenarioin this case, a 32-year-old single woman who sexually harasses her married 50-something male subordinate; it is also one of a number of features from the 1990s to tease out the potential of VR and simulated worlds. Examples range from the campy (The Lawnmower Man, Virtuosity) to the brilliant (Dark City, eXistenZ) and bizarrely compelling (The Cell, the miniseries Wild Palms). And of course, theres The Matrix, the critically acclaimed box-office sensation that arrived at the end of the millennium like a beam of light to the next one.
The Matrix Resurrections, the first feature in the franchise since 2003, and the first Lana Wachowski has directed without her sister Lilly, arrives in theaters at the moment the metaverse is the hottest buzzword in the tech industry. But the visionas executives like Demi Moores character in Disclosure would pitchhas changed in 20 years. Instead of freedom and VR as an escape to dream worlds guided by dream logics, the technology is now hyped as a cohesive and stabilizing force in an increasingly fractured and incoherent world. Facebook broadly fomented this new wave of VR enthusiasm following the recent name change of its parent company to Meta, signaling its increasing focus on virtual reality products. As Facebook would have it, VR will be a unifying spectacle: Today, you step on a train and see everyone on their phones, having their own personal experience of the internet. But what if internet users all went to the metaverse and their unique journeys all routed to this single digital destination? Naturally, real names and stable identitiesFacebooks raison dtreis part of the plan. And just as naturally, Facebook denies any responsibility for the fractured world of misinformation and erosion of trust in public institutions that the company believes VR can surmount.
There was a brief moment of VR hype in 2016 that faded, but this new round of messagingand investmentsuggests that this time plans are serious. Plus, the technology latches on, Voltron style, to other enormously hyped digital trends like the marketplace blockchain concepts known as Web3. A use case that Web3 and metaverse evangelists might speculate is that someone will buy an image of roller skates as an NFT and take the digital object from Facebooks VR platform to Roblox and other corporate virtual worlds. This decentralized interoperability through crypto supposedly sets the vision apart from previous digital marketplace iterations like Second Life, in which a platform-specific currency (Linden Dollars) was used to trade goods native to Second Life.
Money isnt the opposite of freedom, exactly, but capitalism certainly forecloses on our degrees of it. In a widely circulated interview The Verge conducted in December with the stars of The Matrix, Keanu Reeves laughed at the idea of NFTs and seemed largely unimpressed with Facebook and other capitalistic platform applications of virtual world technology, which he is otherwise enthusiastic about.
Perhaps Resurrectionsnot screened at press timewill infuse the metaverse discourse with some of the more romantic ideals from the 90s. After two years of endless Zoom calls, Im not excited by the idea of meetings in VR. I am, however, still intrigued by virtual environments as a means of time travel, which The Matrix originally posited. Its 2199 in the real world of the first filma bleak reality of robots harvesting humans as batteries. Through the eponymous technology, Neo journeys a hundred years back to the time of Massive Attack, the guttural ring of landline telephones and the Twin Towers still standing. Appealing as it might initially sound, that world is a lie, as he comes to find out, thus predicating his decision to take the red pill, for the truth of reality, or the blue pill, to remain in the illusion.
Theres time travel in The Thirteenth Floor, also released in 1999, as characters spend much of their time in a VR simulation of Los Angeles in the year 1937. That turns out to be one of thousands of layers the characters can port through. Josef Rusnaks film wears its philosophical questions heavily, as it begins with an epigraph of the Descartes line: I think; therefore, I am. The sci-fi thriller is based on the 1964 novel Simulacron-3 by Daniel F. Galouye, also adapted as Rainer Werner Fassbinders 1973 miniseries World on a Wire. These earlier works show there has been interest in the metaverse decades before Neal Stephenson coined the term in his 1992 novel Snow Crash.
Snow Crash depicts an anarcho-capitalist dystopia of megacorporations and oligarchs, where a superrich monopolist named L. Bob Rife controls the fiber-optic network to the capital-m Metaverse. Despite the evil intermediary, this virtual world is an oasis from the hell of reality that earth has become. The virtual world, Stephenson writes, is where magic is possible. The Metaverse is a fictional structure made out of code. And code is just a form of speech. Rife, providing the infrastructure, might have maintained an amicable relationship with Metaverse hackers and builders. Instead, he seeks to infect them all with a mind virus/religion/drug known as Snow Crash. Guns have come to Paradise, Stephenson writes, and to solve this crisis will require a fundamental rebuilding of the Metaverse, carried out on a planetwide, corporate level.
Real-life tech billionaires like Sergey Brin and Reid Hoffman cite the novel as an influence. Peter Thiel is a Stephenson superfan (PayPal employees were required to read his 1999 novel Cryptonomicon) who even unsuccessfully attempted to bring something like Rifes floating community the Raft to life through his Seasteading Institute. Stephenson is not just an inspiration to, but a colleague of, Silicon Valley architects. Beginning in 2014, he worked as Chief Futurist at the augmented reality startup Magic Leap. He was, for a time, the only employee at Jeff Bezoss Blue Origin. The author and Amazon founder went to see October Sky together in 1999, where the idea for the private aerospace company hatched. Stephenson left Blue Origin in 2006, but Bezos continues to bring him up as an inspiration. An interactive book imagined by Stephenson in his novel The Diamond Age was influential to the creation of Amazons Kindle e-reader.
The Web3 ideal of decentralization is meaningless if this interoperability depends on Facebook and other Rife-like corporate intermediaries to function. Likewise, the 90s vision of virtual worlds as freedom neglected how racism, sexism and other oppressions persist despite anonymity, as academics like Lisa Nakamura and journalists like Julian Dibbell, in his classic 1993 feature in The Village Voice, A Rape in Cyberspace, demonstrated. But 2022 is still early. Humans have plenty of time to find a better future for ourselves than as robot fuel, plugged-in and perpetually dreaming of what 1999 used to be.
Posted: December 22, 2021 at 12:58 am
Quirk also pointed out that the idea of floating nations may become more accepted as the impacts of climate change are seen. Consider the Maldives, he said, which is sinking below rising sea level. You can see this nation could be transitioning to a floating nation, and the question becomes, does the world recognise them as a nation?
Sealand and the Seasteading Institute share some core aims and values, but theyre also substantially different. Sealand was a quirk of history, a single man who flew in the face of rules he disagreed with. Seasteading has much of that in its heart, but with a more complex philosophy behind it, rooted in the principles of the free market.
Unlike Sealand, which isnt trying to build a population, the seasteads would have to compete with one another to attract people to live there. Quirk imagines a world in which citizens, unhappy with the infrastructure, laws or systems of one nation, can break apart and float over to another. We think a market of competing services will unleash innovation in governance, he said.
When I asked Quirk what he imagines when he closes his eyes and thinks about a future seastead, he answered quickly. Venice. I love the history people were chased out of the places they lived in by warfare and they moved out into swamps and over time they built a civilisation on stilts that eventually became one of the wealthiest places on Earth.
The rest is here:
Posted: December 17, 2021 at 10:50 am
A floating marine utopia might sound like a science fiction fantasy, but these innovative projects could soon be taking shape in our world.
The concept of a floating city isnt new. Humans have a long history of living in communities on the water, from the chinampas of the Aztec Empire to the canal city of Amsterdam. But more recently, modern environmental and social developments like the threat of climate change and the introduction of new technology have renewed global interest in the idea of sustainable urban, ocean-based communities.
In April 2019, the United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat) discussed the possibility of using floating cities to help prepare for and alleviate infrastructural damage related to climate change. Alongside the Oceanix company, the partnership unveiled a plan for a 10,000-resident floating city intended to house people whose existing communities are most susceptible to the threat of rising seas. The proposed city would not only be built on water but would also have a symbiotic relationship with it, designed from scratch to be climate-neutral and completely sustainable.
So what do you need to know about floating cities? Read on to find out what they are, how theyre structured, and their environmental benefits. Or you can skip to our infographic below to see a visual summary of everything you need to know.
The modern concept of a sustainable, climate-resistant floating city has origins in the seasteading movement, a vision headed by the Seasteading Institute that seeks to create self-governing nation-states on water. Seasteaders hope is to create a human-made ecosystem of communities that are designed to grow, adapt, and transform over time.
Some of the principles that anchor floating city proposals are:
While there have been several different renderings of floating cities over the years, the plans proposed by Oceanix at the UN roundtable provide a glimpse of how the most modern iteration of a floating city would be built.
The city would consist of a collection of connected platforms with varying designs, each of which would serve a role in sustaining the floating metro. One platform would house submerged gardens for growing seafood while another would hold desalination equipment for making salt water drinkable. Inner platforms would house communal facilities for programs like education, culture, exercise, and healthcare.
Similar to modular construction seen on land, the infrastructure of these floating cities would be able to be disassembled and reconfigured by architects for continued development. All buildings in the city would also be constructed at a low height to minimize damage from climate events.
To keep settlements afloat, architects would use large pontoon structures filled with air to provide buoyancy to the platforms. These platforms would be hexagonal, as its considered the most space-efficient architectural shape. The city would not be floating freely, but would instead be moored to the seafloor and anchored off the coast of a major city on the mainland.
Ideally, these floating cities would eventually make up a circular network of communities sustainably harnessing natural resources to provide energy, food, water, and other materials. These resources include:
These floating cities would be built from scratch to be climate neutral and self-reliant, which provides a number of key environmental benefits.
Because they would be built on the water, floating city structures would maintain a lower center of gravity, protecting them from strong waves, floods, tsunamis, and even hurricanes. The use of locally-sourced innovative building materials would allow the structures to self-repair over time and withstand natural harsh weather conditions.
Climate change threatens the future of many communities. Ninety percent of the worlds largest cities are situated near a body of water. To make matters worse, sea levels are expected to rise by at least 26 inches by the end of the century. Due to their buoyant design, floating cities would provide safe, climate-resilient housing for flood-stricken communities.
Additionally, the positioning of the platforms in a floating city could cast shadows on the surface of the water, helping to lower ocean temperatures that have risen as a result of climate change.
By 2030, its anticipated that 60 percent of the worlds population will inhabit cities. As cities become overcrowded and living conditions increasingly undesirable, urban planners are investigating new housing solutions like 3D printed homes. A newfound ability to build homes on the oceans surface could increase available housing space and help de-populate overcrowded cities.
As cities become more crowded, housing will also become increasingly difficult to afford. Floating cities would provide a respite from the housing crunch, particularly in cities with local governments that are willing to invest in offshore housing. Prefabrication paired with the low cost of leasing space on the ocean would create an affordable model of living.
Floating cities would use resources from local solar energy, recirculating water, and food production to be fully self-reliant. The open ocean would provide an abundant, untapped source of both water and solar energy, which could be harnessed for use with new technologies like high-tech aquifers and purifiers.
Floating communities would also be able to generate their own produce and food from on-land farms and underwater gardens. This would allow these communities to reduce waste and transport by producing the food necessary to feed their inhabitants.
Finally, floating buildings would play a key role in reducing CO2 emissions in the built environment. The Oceanix city concept includes restrictions banning high carbon-emitting cars or trucks even garbage trucks. Instead, pneumatic trash tubes would be used to transport trash to a sorting facility, where they would be recycled or repurposed.
The close-knit design of these floating settlements would make it possible to use driverless vehicles and drones to make deliveries, as well as a shared route for passenger travel using only sustainable modes of transportation.
Although it sounds incredibly promising, floating city technology is still in its infancy. Even Peter Thiel, a prominent seasteading advocate, mentioned in a 2017 interview that the technology is still very far in the future.
One significant obstacle would be construction costs. The most recent assessment of the project, which occurred in 2013, concluded that a small floating city for up to 300 residents could cost as much as $167 million. A larger city that houses more residents would likely be prohibitively expensive.
Another logistical concern is the question of political authority. Current plans propose that floating cities would serve as separate boroughs or extensions of major mainland cities. However, its unclear exactly how the floating cities would be governed. There is also concern that, though floating cities are meant to be an affordable housing option for climate refugees, rising demand may result in these climate-resilient oases becoming exclusive and expensive, serving only to provide power and resources to the elites.
Although there are still many obstacles on the path to making floating cities a reality, the project seeks to challenge and, hopefully, ultimately solve many of our climate and housing dilemmas. Now embraced by UN-Habitat and supported by new innovations, the concept is closer within reach than ever before. Only time will tell whether floating cities will turn out to be the path society chooses toward a more climate-friendly future, but for now, they continue to offer a vision of an urban future that is peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable.
To learn more about floating cities, see our infographic below.
Sources:Oceanix | Journal of Architectural Engineering Technology | Wired | Cosmos Magazine | Inhabitat | Tree Hugger | Barrons
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Posted: November 28, 2021 at 10:09 pm
Seasteading book series Posted by Vlad_ben_Avorham 1 month ago to Books In a plausible near future, the titans of the newest tech revolution, fed up with restrictive regulation protecting existing monopolies, decide to build their own floating island.
Experience a tour of the first island city state through the eyes of Elaine Winters, a typical left leaning tech blogger, invited out for an interview with the island's creators. See her culture shock, as she gets a real taste of freedom and a lesson in what can be accomplished when you don't have to ask permission first.
Torn from the headlines technology, is featured on MU as mature and operational. Sometimes, still expensive, at others, it has been brought down by economies of scale. This is a fun easy read, designed to be enjoyable rather than deeply philosophic, while still conveying a basic understanding of the principles of free enterprise and market forces to a young woman who's "education" has been severely lacking in such basic information.
MU is a right leaning libertarian political philosophy, book two, Atlantis is about a more left leaning yet still libertarian political philosophy which runs that Island. The third book wrapped up the series, essentially tying up the basic story arch, while still leaving you plenty of room to imagine what the world could do next. After all, the best part of Tomorrowverse, is thinking about how you would better it.
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Posted: at 10:09 pm
A strange new ideology has been growingover the last few years, you might have noticed amid the day-to-day chaos the slow, proto-planet-like formation. Currently, it has no name, nor an obvious leader. Its many thousands of proponents do not even seem, yet, to consider each other fellow-travellers. But to the onlooker, theyre clearly marching the same steps to the same tune. We might call it neoclassical reactionism.
The central refrain is a familiar one: the modern world is ugly, decadent, sick. But rather than seeking refuge in religion or racial politics, neoclassical reactionaries hark back to Ancient Greece and Rome in particular, to supposedly lost values like vitality, beauty and strength. Theyre obsessed with bodybuilding and Latin. Theyre also obsessed, less predictably, with cryptocurrency, considering it a long-awaited way to bypass the sclerosis of centralised economies. The whole thing is sort of Nietzsche meets Bitcoin.
Up to now, the movement has been confined largely to anonymous social media accounts (albeit some with hundreds of thousands of followers). But there are early signs of a spillover into the real world. Last month, a group called Praxis announced its ambition to create the worlds first 'city-cryptostate', an entirely new city, constructed 'somewhere on the Mediterranean', founded on the shared value of 'vitality' 'the defining value of the coming epoch'.
The groups introductory statement reads like neoclassical reactionary bingo. Our civilisation, they write, 'is unwell' we 'eat food that kills us, weve lost sight of beauty, and we neglect our spiritual lives'. Modern humans now 'live within' their screens.
All of this is a betrayal of our true potential. We, after all, 'are descended from the people who built Rome and Athens, who dared to split atoms and voyage to the Moon'. Fortunately, thanks to crypto, we now have 'a radical opportunity' to unshackle ourselves from 'the institutions that seek to limit our growth' and achieve 'a more vital future for humanity'.
The plan, evidently, is to attract followers online, form a kind of virtual polis in the cloud, and then to approach actual governments in the Mediterranean (apparently early negotiations have already begun) with the offer of a new physical city funded by selling off monuments and land as NFTs. Its not a million miles away from Peter Thiels concept of Seasteading: autonomous, libertarian communities built on floating platforms in regulation-free international waters. Praxis will presumably have to abide by the laws of whichever state takes them in, though it might be that the promise of thousands of good-looking, remote-working techies with six-packs encourages governments to consider tax breaks.
Which brings us to one of the oddest things about the movement. Unlike the alt-right, which was associated with disaffected, cynical incels, many neoclassical reactionaries (or at least those drawn to Praxis) appear to be young, glamorous idealists. Its as though smoothie-detox social media influencers suddenly discovered the Dark Enlightenment (one Praxis member, a bodybuilder and 'physical spiritualist' called Sol Brah, recently posted to his 50,000 Instagram followers a selection of inspirational Nietzsche quotes).
Praxiss own Twitter feed is surreal. Theres the video of the topless crypto bro doing overhead presses with a Sisyphean-sized rock. There are mock-up pictures of statues as big as the Eiffel Tower of stacked, semi-naked warriors. There are a lot of videos of guys walking around barefoot (for some reason, shoes are considered, to quote one post, 'a symptom of civilisational collapse'). But perhaps most bizarrely, theres a lot of hype and not from nobodies. There are endorsements from, among others, the venture capitalists Masha Drokova and Geoff Lewis, the CEO of Replit Amjad Masad, and crypto guru Balaji Srinivasan.
If Praxis is the 'respectable' face of neoclassical reactionism, other arguably more influential figures in the movement tack much closer to the alt-right. Take Bronze Age Pervert, an anonymous writer and cult figure, whose self-published book, Bronze Age Mindset, immediately shot into the top 150 list on Amazon back in 2018.
BAP, as hes usually known, combines Ancient Greek mythology with deliberately outrageous, 'post-ironic' racist and sexist generalisations. Prior to his ban earlier this summer, BAP boasted over 70,000 followers on Twitter and inspired scores of offshoot accounts (like, for instance, Latino Bodybuilders for Hellenism). His writing has drawn the attention of, among others, former Trump advisor Michael Anton, who, in a review of Bronze Age Mindset, concluded: 'In the spiritual war for the hearts and minds of the disaffected youth on the right, conservatism is losing. BAPism is winning.'
Consider also the Passage Prize art contest, established by another right-wing Twitter celeb, L0m3z. Its mission statement rails against our 'regime of shrill Human Resource mediocrities', and encourages artists instead to tap into 'powerful energies latent in the graves of pre-history, waiting for a hand, a mind, an imagination to retrieve and transform them into the creative spirit that will light a new way forward'.
The prize, which will dish out the equivalent of $20,000 in cryptocurrency, is to be judged by the neoreactionary intellectual Curtis Yarvin and yet another anonymous Twitter megastar, Zero HP Lovecraft, whose recent book, self-published using the Bitcoin publisher Canonic, supposedly made over $50,000 in the first few hours of release.
Another website still, IM-1776, has published a number of pieces of a broadly neoclassical reactionary bent, including the Arts & Literature for Dissidents series (the first essay of which is penned by 'Aeneas Tacticus Minor') and the 'DAnnunzio, Nietzsche and Bronze Age Pervert'symposium (Benjamin Robertss opening essay champions nightclubs as outposts for Nietzschean, 'hard-right' vitality).
Clearly, something is afoot. But what, exactly? Is this the post-religious right finally breaking free of Christianity and setting the civilisational agenda for the next thousand years, or is it a group of naive techies ushering an ideological Bitcoin bubble? Is it a renaissance or the beginnings of crypto-fascism? Perhaps, in trueNietzschean style, we shouldn't spend too long staring into the abyss.
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Posted: October 21, 2021 at 11:09 pm
The Thiel Foundation is a private foundation created and funded by billionaire Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and early investor in Facebook.
Thiel concentrates the bulk of his philanthropic efforts on what he sees as potential breakthrough technologies. In November 2010, Thiel organized a Breakthrough Philanthropy conference that showcased eight nonprofits that he believed were working on radical new ideas in technology, government, and human affairs. A similar conference was organized in December2011 with the name "Fast Forward".
The Thiel Foundation has three main internal projects: the Thiel Fellowship, Imitatio, and Breakout Labs.
The Thiel Fellowship (originally named 20 under 20) is intended for young visionaries under the age of 20 and offers them a total of $100,000 over two years as well as guidance and other resources to drop out of school and pursue other work, which could involve scientific research, creating a startup, or working on a social movement. Selection for the fellowship is through a competitive annual process, with about 2025 fellows selected annually. Peter Thiel announced the fellowship at TechCrunch Disrupt in September 2010. The first round of fellows, based on applications made at the end of 2010, was announced in May 2011.
Imitatio is a project funded by the Thiel Foundation that aims to understand the world through the lens of Rene Girard's mimetic theory.
Breakout Labs is a grant-making body operating as part of the Thiel Foundation (a philanthropic organization created by Peter Thiel). Breakout Labs gives grants for early-stage scientific research that is too speculative or long-term to interest the for-profit sector (such as angel investors and venture capitalists) but may be unsuitable for traditional sources of funding for scientific research due to its radical or offbeat nature. Grants are made through a competitive application and selection process. Breakout Labs announced its first batch of grantees on April 17, 2012, and its second batch of grantees on August 15, 2012.
The Thiel Foundation supports outside groups in three main areas: freedom, science and technology, and anti-violence. Some of the prominent organizations that have received major grants from the Thiel Foundation are described below.
Thiel believes in the importance and desirability of a technological singularity. The Foundation has given over $1,627,000 to MIRI.In February2006, Thiel provided $100,000 of matching funds to back the Singularity Challenge donation drive of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute (then known as the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence). Additionally, he joined the Institute's advisory board and participated in the May2006 Singularity Summit at Stanford as well as at the 2011Summit held in New York City.
In May2007, Thiel provided half of the $400,000 matching funds for the annual Singularity Challenge donation drive.
The organization was a participant in the Breakthrough Philanthropy conference (November2010) and the Fast Forward conference (December2011).
In September2006, Thiel announced that he would donate $3.5million to foster anti-aging research through the Methuselah Mouse Prize foundation. He gave the following reasons for his pledge: "Rapid advances in biological science foretell of a treasure trove of discoveries this century, including dramatically improved health and longevity for all. Im backing Dr. [Aubrey] de Grey, because I believe that his revolutionary approach to aging research will accelerate this process, allowing many people alive today to enjoy radically longer and healthier lives for themselves and their loved ones."
The Thiel Foundation supports the research of the SENSFoundation, headed by Dr.deGrey, that is working to achieve the reversal of biological aging. The Thiel Foundation also supports the work of anti-aging researcher Cynthia Kenyon.
On April15,2008, Thiel pledged $500,000 to the new Seasteading Institute, directed by Patri Friedman, whose mission is "to establish permanent, autonomous ocean communities to enable experimentation and innovation with diverse social, political, and legal systems." In February 2010 he provided a subsequent grant of $250,000, with an additional $100,000 in matching funds.
In2011, Thiel was reported as having given a total of $1.25million to the Seasteading Institute.
The Thiel Foundation is also a supporter of the Committee to Protect Journalists, which promotes the right of journalists to report the news freely without fear of reprisal, and the Human Rights Foundation, which organizes the Oslo Freedom Forum.
Thiel has also supported the life extension group, the Methuselah Foundation, founded by Aubrey De Grey.
Posted: at 11:09 pm
@jackbutcher: From Nations to Nodes.
Why Start a New Country?How to Start a New Country?1. Election2. Revolution3. War4. Micronations5. Seasteading6. Space7. Cloud CountriesMinimum Necessary InnovationWhat Counts as a New Country?
We want to be able to peacefully start a new country for the same reason we want a bare plot of earth, a blank sheet of paper, an empty text buffer, a fresh startup, or a clean slate. Because we want to build something new without historical constraint.
The financial demand for a clean slate is clear. People buy millions of acres of vacant land and incorporate hundreds of thousands of new companies each year, spending billions just to get that fresh start. And now that it is possible to start not just new companies but new communities and even new currencies, we see people flocking to create those as well.
The societal value of a clean slate is also clear. In the technology sector alone, the ability to form new companies has created literally trillions of dollars in wealth over the past few decades. Indeed, if we imagine a world where you couldn't just obtain a blank sheet of paper but had to erase an older one, where you couldn't just acquire bare land but had to knock down a standing building, where you couldn't just create a new company but had to reform an existing firm, we imagine endless conflict over scarce resources.
Perhaps we don't have to think too hard to imagine this world. It resembles our own. In the distant past people could only write on clay tablets, in the recent past they were executed for contemplating entrepreneurship, and in the immediate present they are arguing over replacing an ancient gas station. In these times and places, making a fresh start was technologically infeasible, politically impossible, or judicially punishable.
And that's where we are today with countries, with cities, with nations, with governments, and with much of the physical world. Because the brand new is unthinkable, we fight over the old. But perhaps we can change that.
There are at least six ways to start new countries that have been publicly discussed. Three are conventional and three are unconventional. We will introduce them only to deprioritize them all in favor of a seventh.
The most conventional way to start a new country involves winning sufficient power in an election to either (a) rewrite the laws of an existing state or (b) carve out a new one from scratch with the consent of the international community. This is the most widely discussed path, and by far the most crowded. Many people care about this avenue, perhaps too many.
The second obvious way is to carry off a political revolution. We don't advise attempting this. Particularly momentous elections are sometimes referred to as revolutions, though a revolution frequently involves bloodshed. Revolutions are infrequent, but everyone knows that they mean a new government.
The third conventional way is to win a war. We don't advise attempting this either! A war is of course not independent from the other two. Indeed, both elections and revolutions can lead to wars that end up carving out new polities. Like a revolution, a war is infrequent and undesirable, but again is widely known as a means by which national borders may be rewritten.
Now we get to the unconventional. The most obvious of the unconventional approaches and the one most people think of when they hear the concept of "starting a new country" occurs when an eccentric plants a flag on an offshore platform or disputed patch of dirt and declares themselves king of nothing. If the issue with elections is that too many people care about them, the issue with these so-called micronations is that too few people care. Because a state (like a currency) is an inherently social affair, a few people in the middle of nowhere won't be able to organize a military, enforce laws, or be recognized by other nations. Moreover, while an existing state may be content to let people harmlessly LARP a fake country in their backyard, an actual threat to sovereignty typically produces a response with real guns, whether that be the Falklands or Sakhalin.
Here we start to get interesting. Conceived by Patri Friedman and backed by Peter Thiel, seasteading essentially starts with the observation that cruise ships exist, and asks whether we could move from a few weeks on the water at a time to semi-permanent habitation on international waters (with frequent docking, of course). As the cost of cruise ships has fallen recently, this approach is becoming more feasible. But we haven't yet seen a working example.
Perhaps the most prestigious of the start-a-new-country paths is the idea of colonizing other planets. Unlike seasteading or micronations, space exploration started at the government level and has been glamorized in many movies and TV shows, so it enjoys a higher degree of social acceptability. People mainly think of it as currently technically infeasible rather than outright crazy. Elon Musk's SpaceX is one entity seriously contemplating the logistics of starting a new state on Mars.
And finally we arrive at our preferred method: the cloud country. Our idea is to proceed cloud first, land last. Rather than starting with the physical territory, we start with the digital community. We recruit online for a group of people interested in founding a new virtual social network, a new city, and eventually a new country. We build the embryonic state as an open source project, we organize our internal economy around remote work, we cultivate in-person levels of civility, we simulate architecture in VR, and we create art and literature that reflects our values.
Over time we eventually crowdfund territory in the real world, but not necessarily contiguous territory. Because an under-appreciated fact is that the internet allows us to network enclaves. Put another way, a cloud community need not acquire all its territory in one place at one time. It can connect a thousand apartments, a hundred houses, and a dozen cul-de-sacs in different cities into a new kind of fractal polity with its capital in the cloud. Over time, community members migrate between these enclaves and crowdfund territory nearby, with every individual dwelling and group house presenting an independent opportunity for expansion.
What we've described thus far is much like the concept of ethnic diasporas, which are internationally dispersed but connected by communication channels with each other and the motherland. The twist is that our version is a reverse diaspora: a community that forms first on the internet, builds a culture online, and only then comes together in person to build dwellings and structures. In a sense you can think of each physical outpost of this digital community as a cloud embassy, similar to the grassroots Bitcoin embassies that have arisen around the world. New recruits can come to either the virtual or physical environment, beta test, and decide to leave or stay.
Now, with all this talk of embassies and countries one might well contend that cloud countries, like the aforementioned micronations, are also just a LARP. Unlike micronations, however, they are set up to be a scaled LARP, a feat of imagination practiced by large numbers of people at the same time. And the experience of cryptocurrencies over the last decade shows us just how powerful such a shared LARP can be.
Let's pause and summarize for a second. The main difference between the seventh method (cloud countries) and the previous six (election, revolution, war, micronations, seasteading, and space) is that it straddles the boundary of practicality and impracticality. No one can claim that it's infeasible to build million person online communities or billion dollar digital currencies, or that it's physically impossible to architect buildings in VR and then crowdfund them. The cloud country concept "just" requires stacking together many existing technologies, rather than inventing new ones like Mars-capable rockets or permanent-habitation seasteads. Yet at the same time it avoids the obvious pathways of election, revolution, and war all of which are ugly and none of which provide much venue for individual initiative.
In other words, the cloud country concept takes the most robust existing tech stack we have namely the suite of technologies built around the internet to route around political roadblocks, without waiting for future physical innovation.
Having outlined these seven methods, the careful reader will notice that we played a bit fast and loose with the definition of what a "new country" is.
First, what do we mean by a new country? One definition is that starting a new country means settling a wholly new territory, like colonizing Mars. Another definition is that simply changing the form of government actually changes the country, like going from the Second French Republic to the Second French Empire. Rather than using either this strict or loose definition, we will use both numerical and societal definitions of a new country.
The numerical definition begins with visualizing a nationrealestatepop.com site similar to coinmarketcap.com, where the number of cloud country members, the acreage of real estate owned by those members, and the on-chain GDP are tracked in realtime. Eventually a cloud country of 5M people worldwide with thousands of square miles of (discontiguous) community-owned land and billions in annual income demands recognition.
This in turn leads us to the societal definition: a new country is a new member of the United Nations, one that is internationally recognized by other countries as a legitimate polity capable of self-determination.
This combination of absolute and relative metrics matches the emergence of cryptocurrency. Initially ignored, then mocked as an obvious failure, within five years after its invention Bitcoin attained a billion dollar market capitalization (a numerical success) and was subsequently listed on CNBC and Bloomberg alongside blue chip stocks (a form of societal recognition). At each step Bitcoin could keep ascending numerically on its own, with greater societal recognition following in its wake; by 2020 it had changed the trajectory of the People's Bank of China, the IMF, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and the World Bank.
Cryptocurrency was able to achieve these heights because money has both technical and political aspects. The numbers could be piled up before the societal accolades followed. Once Bitcoin had proven that it couldn't be easily counterfeited or hacked, the shared belief of the tens of millions of cryptocurrency holders worldwide was enough to get BTC from a market cap of $0 to a market cap of $1T+, and from there to a listing on every Bloomberg Terminal.
Could a sufficiently robust cloud country with, say, 1-10M committed digital citizens, provable cryptocurrency reserves, and physical holdings all over the earth similarly achieve societal recognition from the United Nations? A cloud country with a population of this size would actually fit right in the middle of the pack globally, as out of the 193 UN-recognized sovereign states approximately 20% of existing countries have a population of less than 1M and ~55% have a population of less than 10M. This includes many countries people typically think of as "real", like Luxembourg (615k), Cyprus (1.18M), Estonia (1.3M), New Zealand (4.7M), Ireland (4.8M), Singapore (5.8M), and so on.
These "user counts" are surprisingly small numbers by tech standards. Of course, mere quantity isn't everything. The strength of affiliation to our hypothetical cloud country matters, as does the time spent on the property, the percentage of net worth stored in the currency, and the fraction of contacts found in the community.
Still, once we remember that Facebook has 3B users, Twitter has 300M, and many individual influencers have more than 1M followers, it starts to be not too crazy to imagine we can build a 1-10M person social network with a genuine sense of national consciousness, an integrated cryptocurrency, and a plan to crowdfund many pieces of territory around the world. With the internet, we can digitally sew these disjoint enclaves together into a new kind of polity, a network state.
The next step is to describe exactly how we might go about this.
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Posted: October 11, 2021 at 10:46 am
Review of The Contrarian: Peter Thiel and Silicon Valleys Pursuit of Power by Max Chafkin (Penguin Press, 2021)
On December 14, 2016, the executives of the largest tech companies in the United States were seated around a conference table on the twenty-fifth floor of Trump Tower. After opposing Donald Trump during the election, theyd assembled to kiss the ring and find a path forward that would serve their mutual interests.
While it was generally framed as an uncomfortable meeting of political rivals, there was one executive in the room who did not have that rivalry projected onto him. Seated beside Trump was Peter Thiel, the PayPal and Palantir Technologies cofounder who broke from his peers to endorse Trump at the Republican National Convention. During the meeting, Trump grasped Thiels hand and praised him as a really special guy who saw something very early maybe even before we saw it.
Given that Silicon Valley is often portrayed as a liberal mecca, it seemed like Thiel was bucking the trend by aligning with Trump. But a new biography of the billionaire venture capitalist, Max Chafkins The Contrarian: Peter Thiel and Silicon Valleys Pursuit of Power, suggests that Thiel actually represents the spirit of Silicon Valley far more faithfully than many of his peers.
Thiel tends to receive less scrutiny than Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, or Mark Zuckerberg. He will at times appear publicly to make controversial statements about politics or the future of technology, but then will disappear again as the media cycle moves on to other topics.
Chafkins book pulls back the curtain on this powerful but underexamined tech figure. He tracks Thiels trajectory from right-wing student provocateur at Stanford who defended South African apartheid, to libertarian early tech investor who claimed PayPal would tear down the financial establishment, to his present-day incarnation as an orbiter of the Intellectual Dark Web who seemingly believes that technology can achieve what democracy cant.
While Thiel is often portrayed as the odd one out in Silicon Valley, Chafkins focus on the people who surround Thiel, including some of his fellow tech executives, calls that into question, particularly on economic issues. Thiel may be unusually provocative, but the most powerful people in the tech industry have plenty in common with him, even if they themselves might not publicly or even privately admit it.
Take the meeting at Trump Tower. Chafkin writes that, once the cameras were shooed out, the tone changed. While they had postured as semireluctant for the press, in private the CEOs were more than happy to entertain parts of Trumps agenda, from his campaign against China to his hard line on immigration. Apple CEO Tim Cook suggested that Trump separate the border security from the talented people, which prompted Thiel and far-right Trump advisor Stephen Miller to suggest adopting a points-based immigration system. Google chairman Eric Schmidt even proposed a name for Trumps immigration plan: the US Jobs Act.
Thiel had been the only attendee to endorse Trump for president, but the others were perfectly amenable to his agenda behind closed doors, to the extent that it aligned with their own material interests. This is the reality of Silicon Valley: Below the progressive facade is the capitalist engine that drives its companies and most powerful executives. Do no evil is a nice slogan, but the idealism doesnt hold up when shareholders expect profit to be maximized at all costs.
In that sense, Peter Thiel is not the outsider, but the true embodiment of what the tech industry is and where its going.
For decades, the consensus has been that computers and the internet are liberatory developments that inevitably increase personal economic opportunity, enhance the freedom and autonomy of the individual, and connect people in an unprecedented fashion. But these ideas and the liberal values often associated with them are not inherent to the technologies, as their history makes abundantly clear.
The industry we know as Silicon Valley was born before the personal computer or the internet. It was the product of significant public funding funneled into the San Francisco Bay Area during World War II and the Cold War to keep up with the Nazis and later the Soviet Union. As Chafkin writes, Silicon Valley, in its purest form, was the military-industrial complex, and a particularly conservative culture came with it.
Silicon Valleys name comes from silicon transistors. William Shockley was the pioneer in the field, starting Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory in Palo Alto, California, in 1956. The following year Robert Noyce and seven other key scientists who were fed up with Shockleys management style left to start Fairchild Semiconductor. As for the politics of these key figures, Shockley was a eugenicist who later argued that U.S. policy makers should pay Black Americans to get themselves sterilized, writes Chafkin, while Noyce saw the Left as a countervailing force against technological progress.
That Left largely consisted of hippies and peaceniks, whose two primary issues were the Vietnam War and rejecting conformist cultural norms. Silicon Valley, for its part, was profiting off the war and had no interest in the counterculture. It was a squarely conservative industry.
In the coming decades, however, the political lines would blur as refugees from the dying counterculture began to wash up on Silicon Valley shores, drawn to the idea of technology as the next medium of individual expression and empowerment.
In 1980, Apple cofounder Steve Jobs, who had recently done stints backpacking in India and picking apples (the companys namesake) on a communal farm in Oregon, argued that the personal computer offers its power to the individual.
By then, the counterculture in general was turning inward toward exploration and enhancement of personal consciousness instead of engaging in political struggle. In 1965, Ken Kesey of the Merry Pranksters told protesters at an antiVietnam War rally in Berkeley, Theres only one things gonna do any good at all . . . and thats everybody just look at it, look at the war, and turn your backs and say . . . fuck it. That ideology was prevalent throughout the late sixties and the seventies, but by 1980 it had won out.
The idea of people like Kesey wasnt to organize to topple oppressive structures, but to secede into communes built around countercultural values. But as historian Fred Turner writes, the communes nevertheless recreated the conservative gender, class, and race relations of Cold War America, and when they failed, the young, white, highly mobile hippies needed somewhere to go.
It was then that an ideology emerged combining countercultural ideas about individual free expression with faith in small-scale personal technologies. Its primary exponents may have believed that they were embarking on a project to change the system from the inside, but really, they were just taking the reins from the industry leaders before them. And like their corporate forebears, their activities ultimately revolved around profit.
At the same time, Ronald Reagans neoliberal project was taking off. Neoliberalism took advantage of countercultural skepticism of government to reframe the tech industry around the free market and entrepreneurialism instead of the military-industrial complex obscuring its history even as a new wave of public funds was being deployed to counter the Japanese challenge to US technological supremacy in the 1980s.
This continued with the growth of the internet, which, despite being the product of military research, was seized on by cyberlibertarians as a new realm of personal expression free from the influence of the state. In 1996, Electronic Frontier Foundation founder John Perry Barlow, purporting to address the governments of the world, declared the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. Meanwhile, Wired embraced Republicans who wanted to limit government oversight of the internet, even placing social conservatives like Newt Gingrich and George Gilder on its cover in the mid-1990s. These early cyberlibertarians were vehemently opposed to state authority but didnt express a similar concern over the corrupting influence of corporate power.
The Atari Democrats also embraced the libertarian promise of a deregulated tech sector and privatized the internet in 1995. Al Gore, who was pushing the project as vice president, promoted the internet as a means of enhancing personal freedom, echoing cyberlibertarian rhetoric and themes. However, this wasnt the pose he always struck. In 1989, he argued before the Senate that the internet would be an experiment in nation-building, saying, The nation which most completely assimilates high-performance computing into its economy will very likely emerge as the dominant intellectual, economic, and technological force in the next century.
Gores early comments reveal that even as the internet was being framed as a libertarian paradise, its global expansion served US state power and its economic interests. But that was buried by marketing departments and a friendly press that was happy to build the brand-friendly narrative of personal empowerment and disruption for the public good.
Decades later, in the face of an unprecedented digital surveillance apparatus, tech companies fighting for contracts with ICE and the US military, and the growing mountain of scandals in the industry, those framings are increasingly being exposed for the lies they always were. The anti-establishment mask has been pulled back to reveal the capitalist reality. And that brings us back to Peter Thiel.
Unlike Steve Jobs, who embraced the counterculture and sought to infuse the tech industry with some of its values, Thiel has long been hostile to the Left and all its cultural offshoots. Like Noyce before him, he believes that the Lefts influence slows technological progress and sets humanity back.
Thiel has been described as a libertarian because he funded initiatives like the Seasteading Institute for a time and has advocated for deregulation and slashing government spending on welfare and social programs. But he doesnt just want a smaller state. He wants a particular kind of state, one reminiscent of the early days of Silicon Valley, when the tech industry and pro-capitalist governments collaborated to exercise global hegemony.
Chafkin writes that, especially after 9/11, Thiel was no longer much of a libertarian, if hed ever been one in the first place. Hed originally positioned PayPal as an anti-establishment innovation that would give everyone their own Swiss bank account and unilaterally strip governments of the power to control their own money supplies. But he later complied with financial regulations and worked with the FBI to find money launderers the same people whom he had described as personal Swiss bank accountholders. He benefited handsomely from the collaboration.
As he became a more prominent right-wing political figure by backing Trump, appearing at the 2019 National Conservatism conference, and funding so-called right-wing populist candidates like Josh Hawley and J.D. Vance, his companies also became more closely entwined with the US government. Thiel had invested in SpaceX and cofounded Palantir, two companies that rely heavily on lucrative public contracts, and even went so far as to sue the US government to gain access to them. Palantir, in particular, is a data-mining company that works with both major corporations and the US military and intelligence community.
In 2019, Thiel took to the pages of the New York Times to argue for tech companies to work more closely with the US military. He criticized decades of US policy toward China and called out Google for opening an AI lab in China as it canceled an AI contract with the Pentagon effectively accusing it of helping the enemy. In seeking to stoke a Cold War nationalism centered around opposition to China, Chafkin explains, Thiel wants to bring the military-industrial complex back to Silicon Valley, with his own companies at its very center.
And hes not the only tech executive who feels this way just the first to come out and say it, paving the way for the others. In February 2020 Eric Schmidt, whom Thiel once called Googles minister of propaganda, wrote his own Times op-ed calling for the United States to take Chinas technological threat more seriously. For the American model to win, he wrote, the American government must lead. A few months later, Zuckerberg positioned Facebook in opposition to China in front of US lawmakers, while other companies, including Amazon and Microsoft, have continued to fight for major contracts with the US military.
Regardless of whether they identify as liberal or conservative, the tech industrys leaders are embracing the military-industrial complex. Thiel is not an outlier; hes just a few paces ahead.
Silicon Valley has always thrived on having an enemy. In the 1940s, it was Nazi Germany; in the 1950s and 60s, the Soviet Union and its allies; in the 1980s, the Japanese; and we might even say, for a time, at least rhetorically, the US government was positioned as the enemy so the industry could sell itself as anti-establishment in the 1990s.
Regardless of the particulars, counterposing themselves against an opponent has always served the business interests of the leading companies and executives of the Valley. Whether it was early computing enhancing the United States capacity to defeat foreign military and economic adversaries, the personal computer empowering the individual, the internet challenging state power, PayPal taking down the financial establishment, or similar assertions being deployed about cryptocurrencies today, these disruption narratives are ultimately marketing pitches that enable companies to profit in many cases by avoiding and shaping regulations to their benefit.
The Contrarian provides an insightful look at a powerful figure in tech who does break the mold not so much due to his right-wing politics, but because he doesnt hide the real motivations driving the industry. Thiel is an important figure because he cuts through the false libertarianism and even liberalism of the industrys executives to show the cold, capitalist calculation thats always taking place underneath.
In August 2020, Thiel told Die Weltwoche that COVID-19 had created an opening. Changes that should have taken place long ago did not come because there was resistance. Now the future is set free. But the future desired by Thiel is one that involves less democracy, more restrictive immigration measures, and a tech industry even more aligned with the interests of the US government. Techs libertarian age is waning, but its future could be even worse.
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Posted: September 16, 2021 at 5:50 am
The Guardian has a wonderful chronicle of the rise and fall of an experimental libertarian society built on a cruise ship armed with little more than crypto-mining rigs. Yes really. Did I mention one of the founders was Milton Friedman's grandson? Here's how the journey began
In 2017, Patri Friedman and the "seavangelist" Joe Quirk wrote a book, Seasteading, in which they described how a seasteading community could constantly rearrange itself according to the choices of those who owned the individual floating units. (Quirk now runs the Seasteading Institute; Friedman remains chair of the board.) "Democracy," the two men wrote, "would be upgraded to a system whereby the smallest minorities, including the individual, could vote with their houses."
In the decade following Friedman's talk, a variety of attempts to realise his seasteading vision were all thwarted. "Seavilization," to use his phrase, remained a fantasy. Then, in October 2020, it seemed his dream might finally come true, when three seasteading enthusiasts bought a 245-metre-long cruise ship called the Pacific Dawn. Grant Romundt, Rdiger Koch and Chad Elwartowski planned to sail the ship toPanama, where they were based, and park it permanently off the coastline as the centrepiece of a new society trading only in cryptocurrencies. In homage to Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonym of bitcoin's mysterious inventor (or inventors), they renamed the ship the MS Satoshi. They hoped it would become home to people just like them: digital nomads, startup founders and early bitcoin adopters.
Surely a bunch of Silicon Valley Tech Bros could hack their way into disrupting the regulatory apparatus of the ocean to create a Libertarian Utopia, right?
Welp, much like that libertarian community in New Hampshire that was overrun by bears, it seems their focus of hyper-individualism meant overlooking a few key details. For example, you couldn't cook your own food in your unit, not even with a microwave you were forced to engage in commerce with the ship's restaurant. And then of course, there was the issue of what to do with all the waste, both human and otherwise. Which, maybe there'd a solution between "No food" and "What do we do with this poop?" but the founders neglected to consider things like fuel costs and crew costs, too.
What's even more absurd is that this cruise ship was merely intended as a stepping stone to achieve a society of SeaPods little independent Jetson-like pods that sit on a pole above the ocean, where (according to their website) you just sip wine and Bitcoin-mine all day, for freedom.
If these men were more diabolical, they could have probably pulled off something akin to the Scientology Sea Org but alas, they did not. If you're interested in learning more though, the Seasteading website is still up and offering information on other aspirational libertarian communities.
The disastrous voyage of Satoshi, the world's first cryptocurrency cruise ship [Sophie Elmhirst / The Guardian]
Image: Rapid-fire / Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA 3.0)
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Posted: at 5:50 am
Artist rendition of Lunar Colony exterior. (Credit: NASA; art by Rick Guidice)
Recently, there has been on Twitter a discussion of a cryptocurrency-driven seasteading effort so visionary, so unconcerned by petty questions of practicality, legality, and due diligence as to rival Scotlands Darien scheme. A cynic might focus on the entirely predictable outcomeabject failurebut where would humanity be without people willing to commit themselves to bold colonization schemes unburdened by any chance of success? Considerably less amused.
Science fiction, of course, is not restricted to the Earth. It can, when its authors so choose, provide readers with delightful tales of ill-considered and/or unlucky attempts to settle worlds that prove to be much more challenging than anything Earth might offer. Take these five classic examples.
Products of an implausibly successful eugenics project, the long-lived Howard families become the focus of the mayfly masses paranoia that the Howards lifespan is not thanks to inherent genetic gifts but some secret they will not share. Life on Earth swiftly becomes untenable for the Howards. Those who can flee commandeer a sublight starship and flee to the stars, hoping to find a new world they can call home.
Earthlike worlds prove to be surprisingly common. There is however a small catch: the planet the Howards first encounter is already occupied. The alien Jockaira appear roughly comparable to humans. They are in fact property. The planets true masters are godlike, and they have no place for humans. An act of functionally divine will sends the Howards on their way to a world whose gentle natives prove just as advanced in their way as the gods and even more disquieting to mortal humans.
With the right air, the right gravity, a thriving biosphere, and a Sun-like star around which it orbits at the right distance, Fenris appears to qualify as a Class III Earthlike world, a planet unprotected humans can easily settle. Fenris day is the worm in this particular apple. Two thousand hours long, it guarantees extremes of temperature humans cannot survive without advanced, expensive technology.
At its peak, the planet had a quarter million people. Now it is down to ten thousandthose too poor or too stubborn to emigrate to Class III worlds. Fenris rudimentary economy depends on the export of tallow wax. However, exports are controlled by the Hunters Collective, and the Collective is in turn controlled by Steve Ravnick. Ravnick insists tallow wax prices are falling. Is Ravnick lying and pocketing undeclared profits? Unclear. What is clear is that Ravnicks goons will do their best to kill anyone who asks that question.
Mishaps in space tend to produce corpses in abundance. The eight survivors who find themselves on an empty, alien world appear to be extraordinarily fortunate exceptions. They did not die with their starship. While rescue can be ruled out, at least the world on which they will spend the rest of their lives is comparatively habitable.
Eight people equipped with meagre supplies retrieved from a dying starship cannot reasonably expect to colonize an unfamiliar world. Their numbers ensure inbreeding, their lack of equipment leaves them vulnerable to misfortune. The castaways have not so much survived as fallen victim to a more protracted form of death. Not that the certainty of failure deters some from resolving to trying to establish a thriving community in the name of preserving a human species that is flourishingelsewhere.
The unnamed narrator has no desire to be some sort of castaway queen bee. Nor will she allow others to force her to comply. Pressing the point will prove, as her companions discover, quite fatal.
Faster than light travel comes with an insurmountable catch: hyperspace cannot be navigated without a hyperspace beacon at the destination. Such beacons can only be delivered at sublight speeds. By the 25th century, humanity knows of only a dozen life-bearing worlds, only two of which are habitable to humans, one of which is Earth and the other, Sule, is a world whose native civilization is equal to ours. Dreams of New Earth, empty and free for the taking, remain only dreams.
Now, however, a sublight probe proclaims Earth Three has been found. Even better, this pristine world has no cities, towns, or farms. There is no evidence that anything like Sule or Earths civilizations calls this world home. This is because, as unfortunate explorers will discover shortly before their painful demises, this world hosts something quite superior to their forms of life.
Despite incessant seismic activity, the planet Erna was too tempting to pass by. Earthlike worlds are rare. Frequent earthquakes are a small price to pay for a world on which humans can thrive without advanced life support equipment. As the first generation of colonists discovered to their considerable alarm, Erna has characteristics to which human technology is blind, characteristics that would have ruled out settling Erna.
Erna is home to the Fae, a mysterious force that transforms human whim into often horrifying reality. Mundane science and technology depend on natures predictable laws. Thanks to inherently unpredictably Fae, human technology swiftly regressed. Having lost the ability to flee Erna, the colonists distant descendants have no choice but to find some way to co-exist with the Fae or die trying.
No doubt there are far more recent examples of ill-fated colonization attempts, some of which are not Kim Stanley Robinsons Aurora. Feel free to mention them in the comments!
In the words of Wikipedia editor TexasAndroid, prolific book reviewer and perennialDarwin Award nomineeJames Davis Nicoll is of questionable notability. His work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites,James Nicoll Reviewsand the Aurora finalistYoung People Read Old SFF(where he is assisted by editorKaren Lofstromand web person Adrienne L. Travis). He is a four-time finalist for the Best Fan Writer Hugo Award and is surprisingly flammable.
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