Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Technophobes

First an unpleasant truth that Ian Borchardt (Reverance Pavane) revealed to me:

One of the interesting things about the Traveller Tech Level is that it is a very rapid rise to Jump Drive capability, at which point the rate of technological increase with TL slows drastically. This is perfectly in keeping with what Traveller originally was - an interstellar wargame, where the minor capabilities of advanced planets to support naval operations was important. So TL 9-15 is basically the variation in Imperial space capability. That bend at TL9 is vitally important as far as the universe is concerned.

The idea that the TLs beyond 9 are variation of a standard Imperial Tech (TL 15) other worlds copy as well as possible makes sense. Once you reach the stars you encounter other planets and see how they do things you try to do the same (or better).  It also allows for a lot of fleets that could tussle with each other without a decisive advantage from technology (until High Guard came out anyway).

The other side of the TL scale, below TL 9 was designed to give a wide variation in cultures and their capabilities (you can run 'The Sentient Who Would Be King' all over the place).  So after TL 9 we have cultures busily playing catch up (probably limited by resources, economics, and labor pools). Before that we have a number of worlds that are (pardon the term) stagnant, remaining at their pre-stellar technology levels for hundred of years. 

I like making up explanations for this sort of stuff. I used to hate when a designer would force what was essentially a sandbox world into their biases. Now I understand that these choices are made for a good reason. You don't knock down a fence without knowing why it was put up there. Traveller has chugged along for 40 some odd years so there was a good reason for that fence.

Without borrowing from the 3I setting what are some reasons for this technophobia (or at least apathy)? Here's the background for Zaonia though these reasons could be extended to other worlds. 

Zaonia once had a higher level of technology (early stellar at least). After a catastrophe in my setting called the Flame Out jump drives had a bad habit of turning into a cloud of superheated plasma due to unknown jump space shenanigans. Worlds that previously were connected with trade were suddenly cut off. Space travel failed. Technology and industries supported by offworld parts and know how came crashing down. 

In the case of Zaonia, a bucolic agricultural world, the offworld imports were fertilizers, GMO crops, farming tools. Farming is fairly technological even today. The Zaonians suddenly had to relearn basic farming at a early industrial level of technology or lower. Famine followed. Other technologies faltered as everything was put into growing food and ranching. 

Zaonia today is governed by an oligarchy of technocrats: the descendant or successors of those who seized power during the disaster and got the farms and basic services working again. In the time since since space travel resumed these Tech Knights wielded great power but only so long as they maintained the services they were in charge of. 'Knight' meant you were granted rights and privileges and status but you still had constituents and they could vote to recall you. In the old days replacing a knight was a lot more bloody.
(General George S. Patton would have made a dandy Tech Knight! Note I do not claim to own Gen. Patton. His family has him copyright-ed or something.)

You'd think a technological oligarchy would welcome new technology. But the Tech Knights viewed offworld technology as dangerous. Technology requires support, infra-structure. If that support is in the form of a trade ship from another world then you are beholding to that ship and that world. If the ships stop coming you're screwed. If they keep coming they can own you body and soul. 

So the oligarchy limits imports and aims at self sufficiency. The population has the old tales of the Great Famine to keep them scared of too much offworld influence. More to the point the Tech Knights base their rule on being masters of technology. Bringing in smart phones and robots they do not understand or control would erode that authority. 

Regardless there are offworld influences. the only way to stop that is to blow up the starport and shoot down every ship that tries to land and jam any radio signals. Unfeasible. The Zaonians aren't even particularly violent.

Also the Tech Knights are not above making excuses to get some top gear for themselves. In some cases they could cite humanitarian interests. A person who gets cybernetic legs and returns home will not face amputation and a wheel chair. In many cases they cite the technology as depending on different kinds of unobtainium. They import sand munitions, for example, and tell the locals it's a sand gathered on the beaches of a far away world. The same goes for various drugs.

In the most wonderful case locals will salvage or replace some piece of local technology from before the Great Famine. This happened with a number of gravitic modules. Eventually they began building their own grav modules using vacuum tubes and crude transistors. It's amazing what you can copy if you only know it is possible. Their grav modules are more fragile. they are prone to overheating and in general an airplane is cheaper and faster. The gravitics powered aeros are important because they demonstrate just what the locals can do on their own.

The final exception to offworld technology is imminent need. Zaonia faced one invasion force equipped with battledress and laser weapons. They beat them back using weight of numbers, strategy and exploiting their own ignorance and over confidence. Some of those captured suits of battledress were hung in public as a warning. Some of the suits still functioned and those found a use. The same for the laser weapons (and a few gauss rifles). You can look the other way when the defense of your planet is at stake. You can also import more battledress and laser weapons since no one really keeps records of how many weapons and armor suits were captured. In fact the Knights used a number of exoskeletons from damaged battledress to build new suits replacing the destroyed armor using metal plates.

They are knights after all.



"Excellent. This suit of armor is virtually impregnable. Now get the biggest ruffian in the guard, put it on him and have him stand in front of me!'
-Tech Knight Senior

(Image from Fallout 4, does not constitute any sort of claim or plagiarism. I just liked it!)