Taking my Space Opera into the Far Future

I haven’t even finished my latest novel yet, though I am writing at a brisk clip, and already my mind turns to my next story. For some reason I find the prospect of setting a story in the far future of my space opera setting to be more and more compelling, and I’m pretty sure after I finish my current novel that will be my next project. So what will this “far future” setting and story look like?

A thousand Years of Diversity

In my previous post on the subject, I wanted the slower-than-light expansion phase to last at least a few centuries, and considered millennia of change before wormhole technology was developed. While I’m going for a longer period than the “few centuries” I had in mind as a minimum, I find the idea of thousands of years of development introduces unnecessary complexities. It’s easier to account for a thousand years’ worth of advancement and change than five thousand years’ worth, for example.

What I was really after was the idea of many generations where man expands through the cosmos to destinations well beyond the closest star systems, and giving more than enough time for what we think of as the “modern world” to become literally ancient history, more or less irrelevant. Most critically, I wanted a period long enough to permit almost any amount of demographic change to occur and still be plausible.

Admittedly, my space opera setting is an alternate history that diverges around 1900, so it’s already a bit different even by the 21st century, but the nations, countries, and population groups, even some of the relatively recent history (the 19th century and earlier) aren’t much different. I’ve decided to set my far-future story, where wormhole technology will be opened up on a truly mass scale for the first time, about a thousand years into the future.

Over a thousand years a population of a million people could grow to twenty billion at a growth rate of only one percent per year! Conversely, a mighty nation now might have shrunk down to complete irrelevance by then. Obscure nations and tribes that few have even heard of could straddle the cosmos. Religions could easily spread and overtake entire civilizations given a thousand years. Even two or three centuries would be a stretch for a nation or religion that’s small, obscure, or nonexistent today to rise to dominance. Ten centuries, on the other hand, gives them plenty of time.

The Centuries of the Wormhole Revolution

I think I’ll be deliberately vague about the date, so I can revise it a bit if I want to, but let’s call it the 31st century. In this time wormhole technology has been developed to the extent that large fixed (and thus expensive) installations can generate them, but by their nature this is only viable for connecting large colonies with each other, and destinations for exploration enough people can agree upon, such as possibly the galactic core.

In this universe there are an infinite number of wormholes at the quantum scale connecting all of space and time, the corollary of “ER=EPR”, that quantum entanglement and wormholes are one and the same and that the geometry of spacetime is determined by quantum entanglement, having long since been proven to be true. Harnessing a wormhole and enlarging it to macroscopic scale is therefore possible, and this engineering problem is gradually solved.

First, perhaps in the 28th century, microscopic wormholes are harnessed, enough to, with further development, turn matter into antimatter and back again via non-orientable wormhole geometry. This leads to the first leap in energy availability after a centuries-long stagnation where nuclear fusion was the most powerful primary energy source. Decades or perhaps a century after this breakthrough, provisionally the 29th century, wormholes large and stable enough to send communications traffic become viable, and spread across the hundreds of light-years man has colonized, connecting the incredibly diverse and hitherto isolated array of human cultures for the first time to a degree unseen since man was still confined to his ancestral solar system way back in the 21st century.

After a century or so of this, wormholes big enough for ships to pass through them become viable; provisionally this is the 30th century. All this so far has been through large fixed installations, which naturally leads to great conflict over who should have control over these “warp gates”. After centuries where resources as good as the last planet can be found on the next one and everyone in space can go their own way without consequence this strikes most humans as a bloody and acrimonious period, though still very tame compared to our 20th century (not that they’d know that…).

This phase will perhaps last another century, which brings us to the time of my next story (provisionally the 31st century), where the protagonist of my story concept, a young scientist (engineer or inventor might also fit), something of a child prodigy who is coming of age and still briskly moving toward fulfilling his potential, invents a new form of wormhole technology, one that is portable and powerful enough to fit on a ship, nullifying the centralized tyranny of warp gates for good, permitting any ship to go anywhere virtually instantaneously.

Genetic Engineering for Human Values

The culture he comes from will be one of the natalist societies I first explored in this post, and will have much in common with these early natural-living natural-fertility “Space Amish” types; indeed they may even be a descendant culture. There are critical differences, however.

Genetic engineering has come into its own in the past thousand years. The ultimate limits are hard to discern, and synthetic and alien genes will be able to push beyond the natural range of traits, but it’s safe to say any trait seen naturally in humans can be engineered in, and if it’s a desirable trait it will tend to be engineered in.

Thus the people in this setting are all beautiful by our standards. Among other things, this means fair porcelain skin and the diverse hair and eye colors found in northern Europe. Without environmental pressures keeping appearance swarthier, this is where it ends up. European facial features, however, are not favored across humanity, but they are in this culture, since they descend from eastern and to a lesser extent northern Europeans.

There’s a marked tendency for the women to have big doe eyes, cute button noses, and luscious lips, though not to inhuman proportions. Bodily proportions meet classical standards of beauty, and are soft, curvy, and voluptuous, all the girls having some kind of hourglass figure.

All the people are also extremely intelligent. How intelligent will they be? Steven Hsu speculates that if all the gene variants that raise intelligence were engineered into one man he would be 100 standard deviations above average, i.e. an IQ of over 1000. IQ tops out at around 200 now, so that’s a big difference.

While some have posited exotic “superintelligence” at such a level, it’s more likely it would simply be a more pronounced version of the advantages of genius-level intellects we see now. After all, all that intelligence is is the ability to get things more easily. Something that takes even our geniuses years to learn could be learned by these exotic intellects in perhaps days. What would take them years to learn might only be learnable by our best minds in centuries. While the objects of their intellectual endeavors will increase in complexity, they will speak and talk pretty much like humans do today.

Natural Intelligence stays on Top

A key premise of my space opera setting is that neither a technological singularity nor a runaway “superintelligence” happen. Indeed, true artificial intelligence, a computer developing consciousness, remains elusive into the 4th millennium, even if computers are far faster than they are today. They remain useful tools, but no more.

Instead, the cultivation of biological intelligence, the one system we know can produce a thinking being, becomes a centerpiece of the culture of both humans and their alien allies. This might even extend into preferring to genetically engineer biological or organic technology instead of relying on non-living devices. I intend to make this a centerpiece of at least our protagonists’ home culture.

This will also extend into a rejection of cybernetic implants and the whole idea of man  merging with machines or becoming a cyborg. The technological premise of this setting means there is little point to merging with a machine anyway, at least if the goal is to augment intelligence, but the mores of our protagonists’ culture prohibit cybernetics, to the point that their immune systems are genetically engineered to swiftly attack and destroy any cybernetic technology, or indeed any foreign element, that invades the body.

Man after Aging

Perhaps the most striking change in mankind in the next thousand years in my setting is the conquest of aging, aspects of which I explored in a previous post. After growth is completed, people stay young, strong, and beautiful forever and don’t age in the protagonists’ culture, and presumably many others as well.

An idea I like is progress in this area being greatly accelerated upon first contact with the Thalassans in the 21st century, with the Thalassans being ageless and possessing immortality genes that might be useful. Progress is slow, taking centuries to evolve to full agelessness, but by the 4th millennium it’s been centuries since anyone had to suffer the infirmities of age.

People still die in this setting; accidents, disease, and violence still take their toll, but life expectancy at birth is measured in centuries. One infirmity that is not curable, however, is the accumulation of experience, memory, and habit over the decades that make people much more rigid and less adaptable in their thinking. Everyone might be young physically but psychologically many are more stuck-up than even the most rigid elders of today. By the 4th millennium genetically engineering a more plastic or forgetful brain might be a common answer to this, but of course that comes with its own trade-offs.

One nasty side effect of agelessness will be a gerontocracy forming, but the more successful societies, including the one our protagonists come from, will have strong norms that wealth and power is to be transferred to one’s children as soon as they reach maturity, and no later.

Another side effect is more population growth; with ultra-low death rates even today’s languid rate of births, once every two decades averaged out over the childbearing years, will be far higher than replacement levels, though the long time periods involved mean the annual growth rate would still be slow.

The protagonists’ culture in my story is natalist, practicing natural fertility. As soon as people are coupled they let nature take its course, which with the natural length of breastfeeding (which is natural birth control), averages to a child every other year. This leads to torrid population growth rates that can’t be sustained over a millennium without faster-than-light expansion; as it turns out when a system is colonized fertility rates tend to decrease with increasing population no matter what kind of culture colonizes it. This is in fact a key motive behind our culture pursuing cutting-edge wormhole research: to overcome this weakness so all humans, not just those in the frontier, can live their best life.

The blissful future of Motherhood

A child every other year for centuries or even decades is a lot of childbearing, but luckily for natalist girls of the future the experience of motherhood has been drastically upgraded. Childbirth is no longer painful among almost any genetically-enhanced population, and in this culture childbirth is not only not painful but outright very pleasurable for the mother.

Inspired by an aspect of the Orion’s Arm worldbuilding project, the other pains and disfigurements of pregnancy have been eliminated. This culture also goes further, by genetically-engineering a moderate-but-always-present feeling of bliss in a woman whenever she is pregnant or breastfeeding.

The idea is to help women feel blissfully happy and fulfilled when they’re fulfilling their purpose, which in the view of this culture is motherhood. While this culture also considers fatherhood to be men’s purpose, childbearing necessarily dominates women’s lives much more than it does men’s if done the natural way (i.e. without resorting to artificial wombs), which in the view of this culture, and most women humanity-wide, is the right way.

Patriarchy, or Feminine Paradise?

This if anything deepens the by-then perennial culture clash between naturalistic-natalist and other cultures; foreigners often accuse the natalists of being sexist and patriarchal cultures where women are kept as second-class citizens less able to participate in public life, but in the view of this and most of the other naturalistic-natalist cultures it is the others who oppress women, by forcing them to assume what are naturally the masculine roles in life instead of helping them to assume the naturally feminine roles like wifehood and motherhood.

Women nevertheless do have full and equal rights in this culture; even if they almost always end up in male-led relationships and devote their days to their husbands and children, they cannot be legally forced to do so. Even if they tried to force them it would be difficult to succeed, since in space by that point the cost of disassociating from would-be oppressors is very little. Governance, to the extent there’s any deliberate design at all, is done by genes and memes, not force and threats.

An Erotic Future

As part of helping women live their best lives, sexual pleasure has been greatly amplified, as has the libido, which has been made almost completely responsive to the advances of men (who also have enhanced libidos!). A woman won’t bother her man for sex all that much more than she would today, but when her man makes love to her she will always enthusiastically take pleasure in the act. In sex she is guaranteed to have multiple strong orgasms every single time. Even better, both men and women have more stamina; the physical issues from too-frequent intercourse are nil, so they can make love as much as they want. Multiple long sessions every day are the norm, with caressing, hugging, and kissing continuing for much if not most of the rest of the day. This will vary of course, from just a couple times in a day to devoting a whole day to sex.

Don’t worry: this isn’t turning into an erotica story. I promise there will be nothing too explicit, just the soft, sensual, emotional depictions of sex that I’ve included in my previous stories. Although there’s a certain gentle eroticism to it all, the romantic connection is the point, not the physical mechanics, and like in my other novels I promise it won’t be too ponderous, only enough to establish a connection, provide an atmosphere, or push the story forward.

In this culture it’s considered important for women and (to a lesser extent) men to marry early, so to help that along they have a matchmaking culture, where parents make matches and exert heavy influence but both the man and the woman regularly exercise veto power.

Debutante Festival: the Center of the Culture

This leads us to the centerpiece of the whole culture, an annual festival that resembles a debutante ball, a gathering of all the maidens who have come of age in our protagonists’ home solar system and from other systems linked by wormholes. Similar to our holiday season or the aristocratic social season (indeed, it might be a direct descendant of the latter custom), it will be a whole season of the year, at least a month long, a season devoted to young women finding husbands and young men finding wives. There’s a very strong expectation that they’ll all find one there.

The festivities consist of balls, where athletic and erotically-charged dances resembling what we’d call ballroom style are performed by a seemingly endlessly rotating list of couples every night. Socializing takes place extensively with potential wives and husbands when not dancing at the balls or when balls aren’t going on. In this way they get a good idea of what it would be like for them to make love to each other and be companions.

Since the festival is the single biggest gathering in this whole culture, there will be ancillary gatherings, festivals, parties, and even work such as scientific conferences. This will be relevant for our protagonist, who is a scientist working on a project that demands a lot of resources and attention.

In particular there will be Thalassan colonies nearby, who have maintained their intelligence and especially creativity advantage ever since humans contacted them and brought them into the space age in the 21st century. Our protagonists’ breakthroughs will in large part be based on Thalassan ingenuity in prerequisite research. Indeed, I’m toying with the idea of Thalassans being the people who first develop wormhole technology centuries earlier.

A big component of this festival is a beauty contest held among those who were there in the previous year, the winner being the symbolic queen of the festival. The reason for this is that although very beautiful and womanly to begin with, the women are genetically engineered to “imprint” or bond with their first lovers.

The Pleasures and Perils of Imprinting

Over time a young woman of this culture becomes sexually responsive to only her man, and reshapes her body, mind, and personality to a large extent in a kind of second puberty to match what he finds desirable. This process is somewhat limited in its effects, and works much better if they love each other to begin with, hence the focus on compatibility and physical attraction in their virgin stage.

The same process, incidentally, happens to the men, but possibly not to the same degree. If it did, the protagonist, who is supposed to find a wife, might be very nervous about the changes making him lose his edge in developing new wormhole technology. This might be an interesting angle to explore.

This process of imprinting makes love and sex much more serious for this culture than it is for us, since the consequences are that much greater. It’s actually not uncommon for maidens to lose their virginity before marriage right then and there at the festival, but that almost always puts them on a path where the best option is to marry the man they gave themselves to, especially if it turns out they conceived a child. In this culture it’s a socially acceptable way to pre-empt the parents’ attempts to arrange a marriage.

Blissful Darlings with Babies at the Hip

With all that fertility, all that sex, and a lack of birth control, the birth of a child is all but guaranteed within a year; a woman returning for the beauty contest will have a body perfected for pleasing her husband, a baby at her hip, and a blissful, dreamy, sated look and aura.

In fact the women will have that same blissful happiness, agreeableness, and excitement surging through them throughout the time they come of age, since that helps them accept, embrace, and enjoy all the changes to their bodies, minds, and lifestyles.

Between the time they come of age and whenever they are widowed and stop bearing children, they will go through life quite blissfully, almost hedonistically. That doesn’t mean they will be dopey zombies; they will be fully aware of everything, experience the full range of human emotions, and be able to talk to their men intelligently, but surges of pleasure will to a large extent define their lives.

The Story

With all that said, the basic thrust of the story is that boy works on wormhole technology breakthrough, boy goes to debutante season and takes a wife, her uplifting encouragement, physical pleasure-giving, and companionship (she’s about the smartest girl at the whole festival, so is well-matched in intellect with him) spur him to push forward, he develops and successfully applies the wormhole technology, and wants to explore the cosmos in a ship of his own, boldly going, together with his wife and now child, where no man has gone before.

He succeeds, and goes to new destinations throughout the Milky Way and far beyond, and even explores the sphere of human civilization, making new discoveries for his people and trying to get more people to adopt the more advanced and decentralized wormhole technology.

With the great diversity in human culture that undoubtedly established itself over a thousand years of spacefaring, the possibilities of not only communication, as is already established in this setting for some time, but physical travel throughout human civilization and the infinity beyond are manifold. Our protagonists themselves could easily have a whole series of adventures even beyond a single novel, since this is the first era in my space opera setting where the space-operatic trope of visiting a new planet and making contact with a new species or people every week would actually become feasible.

It all whets my appetite for a parade of truly exotic outer-space environments, settings, and people, and I hope it whets yours too. I’ve been working on my current novel for roughly a month and am already mostly done; at 57,000 words I have perhaps a quarter of the writing left to go, so I should be finished sometime in February 2021, i.e. this month. After that’s through I’m pretty sure I’m going to be pursuing this project, and I’m looking forward to it very much!

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