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Old 09-06-2022, 11:36 AM   #11
Fred Brackin
 
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Default Re: Cyberpunk, Space Travel, and Setting Design

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Originally Posted by Arith Winterfell View Post
Space and asteroid mining results is enormous resources in terms of both building materials, energy, and rarer earth metals than we have today. This would seem to imply post-scarcity. ?
Without magic technologies you'll only get really common materials out of asteroids. The gold and paltinum group metals that inflate value estimates are widely dispersed through the iron and nickel. Without massive amounts of fusion power or magic nanites what you're going to get out of metalic asteroids is iron and nickel. These are useful industrial metals but nobody's going to get that rich off of supplying them.
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Old 09-06-2022, 11:59 AM   #12
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Default Re: Cyberpunk, Space Travel, and Setting Design

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Space and asteroid mining results is enormous resources in terms of both building materials, energy, and rarer earth metals than we have today. This would seem to imply post-scarcity. Now, how to approach creating cyberpunk's dystopia of haves and have-nots in such a setting and what would it look like?
The first thing you need to do is ensure the world is not, in fact, post-scarcity. In Schlock Mercenary, there's a scene where a centuries-old AI states "I've watched society cross into 'post-scarcity' three times now. Each time it happened we discovered a new basic commodity we didn't have enough of." So, maybe have some sort of unobtanium that's necessary for some ubiquitous superscience technology to function; "have" vs "have-not" could be in respect to how much unobtanium a person has. If you want more traditional scarcity, maybe enough of more traditional materials are expended in the process of acquiring more of that unobtanium that there isn't enough to go around.

You could also go for artificial scarcity. Maybe what the corporations desire is simply to have power over people, but you can't have power over a man who has everything... so despite everything being available in abundant supply, the corporations conspire to only deign to make a pittance available, and make those at the bottom work for them (or fight amongst themselves) to get what the funds they need to purchase what's necessary for survival. Note in this case the product that is truly in high demand is people.
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Old 09-06-2022, 12:09 PM   #13
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Default Re: Cyberpunk, Space Travel, and Setting Design

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Ugh. "Post-scarcity". I hate that expression. "Abundant" resources that are expensive to extract and transport aren't going to turn the world into a utopia of crystal spires and togas. And no matter how much wealth your civilization has, it's not going to change life on the bottom when control over it is concentrated in the hands of a tiny few at the top.
I'm in agreement on this. "Post-scarcity" is a term that became popular with writers who didn't bother to learn the technical definition of "scarcity" in economic theory. It's as if writers talked about relativistic starships as "superluminal."

Liebig's Law of the Minimum says that every living species has some scarce resource that limits its potential expansion in numbers and biomass. If you suppose that that has been done away with, then human numbers can increase without limitóbut eventually the sphere of human biomass will be so large that its surface is receiving too little sunlight to support life. And then you have scarcity again.

Beyond that, there are goods that become more available with increased wealth, but that's not all of them. The Victorians were poorer than we are, but precisely because they were poor, every middle class household had domestic servants, which only the upper classes can afford nowósince the poor have other options in a richer society. Skilled labor becomes costlier with increasing wealth, too. If wealth can support larger populations, then housing becomes scarcer and costlier.

And then there are positional goods: Goods that are valued precisely because having them is a mark of distinction in that not everyone can have them. The price of such goods can increase without limit.

So even in the vernacular sense of "scarcity," it's a more complex issue than you might think.
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Old 09-06-2022, 12:32 PM   #14
ericthered
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Default Re: Cyberpunk, Space Travel, and Setting Design

Or in other words, why give your workers more than they need to survive if you don't have to? That's how you set up the gritty poverty of cyberpunk anywhere you want. It works for TL1 land owners exacting rents that take their peasants to the edge of famine, and it works for TL10 corporations shipping asteroid miners out to the edge of reality and back and paying them nothing more than what it takes to get drunk for a day.
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Old 09-06-2022, 12:45 PM   #15
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Default Re: Cyberpunk, Space Travel, and Setting Design

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Or in other words, why give your workers more than they need to survive if you don't have to? That's how you set up the gritty poverty of cyberpunk anywhere you want. It works for TL1 land owners exacting rents that take their peasants to the edge of famine, and it works for TL10 corporations shipping asteroid miners out to the edge of reality and back and paying them nothing more than what it takes to get drunk for a day.
And any of those works only to the extent that you have no competition who can offer the peasants or the miners more. As an anthropological book I read put it, you can have any two of free land, free labor, and nonzero rents, but you can't have all three.

And to prevent competition, you need state granted monopolies, or business monopolies gained by paying off officials for favors, or anticompetitive state policies such as regulations that only huge firms can afford to comply with, or extralegal violence by private parties such as mafias. Which is why cyberpunk is a futuristic version of noir. Look at classic noir if you want something you can translate into your intended future.
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Old 09-06-2022, 01:04 PM   #16
johndallman
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Default Re: Cyberpunk, Space Travel, and Setting Design

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This made me realize I really do want to keep cyberpunks elements of evil corps and dystopian decay, just on space stations and alien worlds. Perhaps drawing from the Alien franchise is a good idea too in terms of looking at the setting from the "working stiffs" point of view too.
Something fairly quick to read: the logs of RogerBW's "dirty grey space game."
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Old 09-06-2022, 01:40 PM   #17
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Default Re: Cyberpunk, Space Travel, and Setting Design

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And any of those works only to the extent that you have no competition who can offer the peasants or the miners more. As an anthropological book I read put it, you can have any two of free land, free labor, and nonzero rents, but you can't have all three.

And to prevent competition, you need state granted monopolies, or business monopolies gained by paying off officials for favors, or anticompetitive state policies such as regulations that only huge firms can afford to comply with, or extralegal violence by private parties such as mafias. Which is why cyberpunk is a futuristic version of noir. Look at classic noir if you want something you can translate into your intended future.
In this context it doesn't take all that much effort to prevent competition. In an interstellar Corporate Worlds setting with no intelligent alien life having been encountered, early colonies are going to be vastly more isolated and dependent on the colony's sponsor than any historical colony on Earth ever was or ever could be. Heck the "competitors" might not even be able to find you.

Here's something inspirational.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vvANy49Kqhw
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Old 09-06-2022, 02:32 PM   #18
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Default Re: Cyberpunk, Space Travel, and Setting Design

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Now, how to approach creating cyberpunk's dystopia of haves and have-nots in such a setting and what would it look like?
Someone once pointed out that artificial habitats are the ultimate hydraulic society, since they have to maintain control over their own life support in order to survive. So, one simple approach is to make shirtsleeve habitable planets the rarest and most valuable resource available. The "Haves" live in luxury on suitable planetary surfaces under the open sky. The "Have-Nots" toil away in dingy, run-down habs -- built and maintained by the lowest bidder, naturally -- to provide that luxury, always looking for the One Big Break that will let them buy their way into the on-planet elite.

Habs can be free-floating, attached to asteroids, or located on worlds with unbreathable atmospheres or other environmental issues. The elite are painfully aware that orbital bombardment is a thing and that any stowaway who reaches the surface of one of the "good" worlds stands a fair chance of being able to escape into the wilds and survive, so they spend their efforts on thwarting such attempts and otherwise let the habs govern themselves. If the habs actually need goods from the surface -- if, say, their life support systems can't feasibly go over ~99.9% closed -- the elites can use that to solidify their rule.
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Old 09-10-2022, 07:21 AM   #19
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Default Re: Cyberpunk, Space Travel, and Setting Design

Great concept, great thread. Take a look at CJ Cherryh's Alliance-Union books, Downbelow Station, Heavy Time, and Hellburner particularly, for a world of widespread interstellar colonization with some deeply repressive and dysfunctional societies. Habitable worlds are vanishingly rare -- for much of the setting's history, there are only three known -- and provide irreplaceable organics for life support. Most colonies are orbital habitats ruled by aristocratic families, and ships take so long to travel between stars they tend to be run by families who live (and die) on board.

Colonization begins with a state-backed monopoly corporation, the Earth Company, being the only people with enough capital to build starships and space colonies, which in turn depend on Earth for life-support essentials. When another viable ecosphere is found, the ships and colonies start being able to break away, and war follows.....
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Old 09-11-2022, 12:04 PM   #20
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Default Re: Cyberpunk, Space Travel, and Setting Design

Okay, given that you know what you want, you need to make setting choices that support your desired outcome.

Most existing space science fiction models itself (either knowingly or not) after the world as it existed in the 16th Century to the early 19th Century.

Communication went only as fast as the fastest ship; travel took a really long time (months or years); and much of the world remained unknown. However, ships were relatively cheap and, though slow, travel itself was relatively inexpensive, on a day-to-day basis. A single successful trading voyage not only recovered all costs, but turned a handsome profit for everyone involved.

That made for a wide-open world, rich with opportunities for those willing to take risks. Most risks turned out badly, but those that didn't made up for all the rest.

That's why the "Era of Sail," makes such a great adventure setting. It's wide open and, danger notwithstanding, it's full of opportunity -- and that means hope.

If you want a darker space setting, you need to turn most of those expectations on their heads. Travel times should remain long, because that gives local rulers a lot of freedom to misbehave (the Dutch East India Company was the single most brutally oppressive corporation to ever exist; the British East India Company was only a close second).

However, you need to make ships terribly expensive -- which requires that people either already have a lot of money, or they must willingly trade labor or service contracts for passage. If interstellar travel is costly, you'll have smaller numbers of huge ships, and that allows for oppressively centralized control of transportation infrastructure.

Now then, make habitable planets rare, but take a cue from
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, which wonderfully presented the problems associated with a planet that had an environment and an eco-system largely compatible with human biochemistry.

An entire ecosystem that can feed on human life, but which evolved in complete isolation from humanity, means human beings have no natural defenses against local life forms. Moreover, it's not the dinosaur-analogs you have to worry about (most weapons, today, can take out a T. Rex with little difficulty...), but rather, the algae analogs that eat your eyeballs, or the fungus-analogs that live in your colon; or the slug-analogs that secrete neurotoxins in their slime; or the insect-analogs that lay eggs in any available orifice or wound.

Even though two or three planets with habitable biomes would provide tremendous relief for population pressures, a lot of those advantages disappear if life-support is difficult and costly, and travel to them is expensive.

So, why would people choose to try to move to them? There seems little in the way of "demand-pull" migration.

Well, you handle that the same way Blade Runner did -- a home-world that has begun catastrophic ecological collapse -- or is simply rife with violence -- pushes people to try to leave (escape).

If you go that way, you have a core world in the midst of a collapse that pushes people to try to emigrate to distant colonies. However, because travel is so expensive, many people must agree to long-term employment contracts (which everyone carefully does not refer to as "indentures") to a sponsor, who agrees to cover the costs of travel.

Once on the colony planet, the migrant discovers that things aren't nearly as nice as advertised in the brochure. The air is fresh -- but filled with allergens that require constant filtering so as to avoid triggering severe allergic reactions that cause anaphylactic shock in a significant portion of the population.

Fresh water, although abundant, is even more problematic as a biome for alien life. Food can be grown in the local soil -- as long as it's carefully processed to remove parasites that treat bio-engineered Earth plants as a smorgasbord. Crops derived from local plants don't have that problem -- but must be treated to avoid the aforementioned allergy problems.

So, the initial cost of transportation, plus the ongoing costs of life support on the colony world once reached, results in a tiered society.

At the bottom, you have "tenant colonists," who try to pay off their debt by providing labor and services. However, that's incredibly difficult, because the corporations that own the colony facilities try to recover the costs of life-support by charging for those services. This creates a "company-store" system of exploitation, in which very few tenant colonists can get ahead.

Next up in the social hierarchy lie those who work for subcontractors who provide goods and services valued by those who own the colonies. To get a job with one of those "preferred providers" actually may allow a tenant colonist to get free of the debt, and start to get ahead.

After that come corporate employees -- those who actually work for the organizations that own and control the colonies. These people actually have decent lives -- in exchange for brutally punitive non-disclosure agreements and non-compete clauses in employment contracts that pervade nearly all aspects of their existences.

However, corporate employment opens up the opportunity to purchase company stock -- and, in so doing, become a corporate shareholder. Shareholders begin to see discounts on life-support costs, and purchase of enough stock means life support is provided at no cost, as a "dividend."

The next step in the hierarchy are corporate managers, and then corporate executives -- the latter of which may actually receive company stock as part of their compensation.

Those who own preferred contract companies lie somewhere between corporate managers and corporate executives, depending on the wealth of that company and how much the client corporations depend on what they provide. This is about as high as anybody can rise, outside of the corporate structure, but it's a pretty good life. That said, the ideal situation is to create a company so valued that one of the primary corporations offers a buy-out, in exchange for lots of funds and (most desirably) stock in the parent corporation.

Once someone has enough stock that their votes actually matter in board meetings, they've reached nearly the apex of colony life -- and they live by a completely different set of rules, than most people.

Those very few who actually serve on corporate governing boards may as well be gods. The rules do not apply to them, at all.

I think that would go a long way towards a setting that lets you and your players tell the stories you'd like to tell. :)
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