Last year I spent a lot of time worldbuilding the far future of my space opera setting, a time over a thousand years from today when the technology for opening up wormholes to anywhere in the cosmos is invented, unleashing a revolutionary surge in exploration of the universe and connectedness between humanity. Lately I’ve been brainstorming about what happens beyond that, really far into the future, like multiple thousands or even millions of years in the future.
The Wormhole Revolution and Man’s Development
The “wormhole revolution”, starting with microscopic wormholes that can flip matter into antimatter in the 28th century, enables instant communication across arbitrary distances in the 29th century, and at last permits starships to travel across arbitrary distances in the 30th century. The earliest versions are large fixed installations, leading to conflicts like I’ve depicted in “Spectres Call For Me”. The ultimately decisive breakthrough comes in the 31st century, when the technology becomes miniaturized enough to let each ship generate wormholes, as depicted in “Warp Dawn”.
From there the technology matures, though advances continue at a slower rate: as proven in “The Saga of the Ilithianades”, it’s possible in this setting to make wormhole generators small enough to fit on a man’s finger, though that’s beyond the abilities of 4th millennium Gaiagen. The experts in that story don’t venture a guess as to how many years ahead of humanity the alien artifact that can do that is, but it is “far beyond” their own capabilities. In my head I figure it’s at least a few thousand years ahead.
Wormhole technology unlocks antimatter as a primary energy source, and that may well be the ultimate energy source, though I suppose more advanced wormhole technology might unlock the ability to create pocket universes that might generate power far in excess of what antimatter can provide for all I know. This whole era of man’s development, lasting for at least several thousand years, might be termed the “metric era”, where the primary thrust of technological advancement is in the manipulation of space and time.
That’s powerful stuff, but even metric technology hits limits at some point, leaving Gaiagen civilization nowhere else to go: the idea I’ve got for the far far future is that humanity approaches the limits of what’s physically possible to do using this universe as a substrate for civilization, and mankind hits a kind of technological plateau. The plateau was already being approached in some respects just a few centuries from now, but the wormhole revolution led to technology accelerating once again.
Aesthetically, I like it: the industrial revolution is flush with the spacefaring and nuclear revolutions, ending up with a slower-than-light spacefaring civilization once that peaks out. The next threshold is hit with the wormhole revolution, ending up with a faster-than-light spacefaring civilization, the final stage of a race’s development.
Or is it? Every single race mankind meets is in this stage of development at the highest, but there are hints all over the place that there are civilizations higher still that mankind has not met, intimations of unseen races with god-like powers that remain unobserved directly. In addition, the advanced spacefaring civilizations are disproportionately recent in origin; in cosmic terms they tend to be roughly the same age. And there’s a plethora of advanced races who have left behind traces but otherwise have disappeared off the scene, many of them extremely old. Something seems to happen to entire races that causes them to wink out of our universe and ascend to a higher plane of existence.
Man as the old wise Race, and his ultimate Fate
After some thousands of years, I’m thinking anywhere from five to perhaps twenty thousand years, the technological plateau for mankind is more or less reached, intensive growth ceases, and the only growth becomes extensive. Not that it matters too much; man has long been a nomadic industrial civilization, so the degeneration technological stasis engenders in our time doesn’t apply. In many respects the long space age has more in common with the hunter-gatherer age than either does with farming civilization, which gradually fades into a half-forgotten nightmare.
Mankind will continue happily in this state of affairs for a very long time. I like the idea, aesthetically, of a civilization measured in geological time. This means millions of years!
Over all this time technology stagnates, but the spiritual, esoteric dimension, i.e. soulcraft, progresses slowly but surely, unlocking new ways of being, psionic powers, and the like, eventually compelling humanity to ascend like all the precursor civilizations did, winking out of the cosmos as we know it. The mechanisms involved might be similar to those I speculate in my post “The Coming Union of Intelligence and the Cosmos Primeval”. In the meantime, humans would be the old wise race mentoring and messing with the lesser civilizations just starting out in the universe, an interesting role reversal.
Life After People
I’m thinking this stage lasts at least 10 million years, long enough for continental drift to become noticeable on Earth. The East African Rift will have become a new ocean by that point, turning one continent into two, among other changes. Earth itself has been fully rewilded into a garden world, with few permanent inhabitants, and those who do go there leaving no trace of their presence. It’s almost like “Life After People”, only with a few people to wander the new wilderness.
After just 10,000 years there would be few to no traces of civilization left above ground; to all outward appearances Earth would be a pristine wilderness. In my setting, of course, there are people, and various landmarks are maintained as monuments, but over time man’s attachments even to the greatest landmarks may fade, leaving them to revert to nature in the fullness of time. By 10 million years from now the most obvious trace of man’s presence may well be the layer of radioisotopes left over from the late industrial era.
A story about alien explorers from a civilization just coming into their own, visiting Earth many millions of years into the future long after man has ascended, finding a pristine wilderness, perhaps with the descendants of the crows having become sapient but still primitive, establishing a colony on a newly-discovered (to them) alien planet much like the human colony depicted in “The Night of the Calendars”, and discovering traces of man’s existence, or maybe somehow stumbling upon a time capsule deliberately left behind, might make for a fascinating, if a bit creepy, story.
Anyway, this is what I think I’ll go for for my space opera’s future. It incorporates an enormous amount of advancement from real life, and substantial advancement even from what I’ve depicted for a thousand years from now, while retaining the aura of inconceivably ancient and vast spacefaring civilization. The ascension or winking-out stage also preserves storytelling possibilities for the entirety of the universe’s timeline, both in the past and in the future, leaving ample room for new intelligences and civilizations to emerge from the indistinguishable-from-nature substrate of the old. As elegant as it is classically science-fictional. It all just seems right.