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Old 08-02-2011, 09:02 PM   #1
Agemegos
 
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Default Reinventing Barsoom: 2 — Parahumans and legacy genetic engineering

Spoiler warning: if you are going to play in my campaign Red-Blooded Earth-Men, reading this thread will materially diminish your enjoyment thereof.

If you go ahead anyway, please do not convey spoilers to the other players. If you do, your character will be skinned alive, and I will not give you any cheesecake.


SPOILER SPACE

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SPOILER SPACE

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SPOILER SPACE

SPOILER SPACE

In September I am going to start running a new campaign inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom series (especially Master Mind of Mars), S.M. Stirling's In the Courts of the Crimson Kings, Jack Vance's Tschai (Planet of Adventure) series, and the movie Stargate. The premise is that four Australian soldiers are mysteriously transported from the battlefields in France in December 1917 to the habitable, indeed inhabited, surface of Mars.

In accordance with sci-fi convention from before about 1970, Mars is going to be an older world than Earth, afflicted by desiccation, inhabited by the decadent remnants of a culture that once had a tech level far higher than Earth has. I think I will place the fall of the last (already decadent) régiváros (technological stronghold) to the barbarians at about the time of the rise of civilisation on Earth. I think that about 1917 that was believed to be about 3200 BC. Surviving examples of the highest tech will be five thousand years old, an must be either extremely durable, very carefully preserved, self-repairing, or self-reproducing.

In designing the remaining tech of Mars (or Világ as it in known in the Martian language Szólásmód), I want to achieve the sensawunda of Clarkean magic with minimal strain on players' suspension of disbelief, which means designing the relict technology and legacy biotech in terms that would satisfy the players and then concealing my working to present it as magic to the characters, its mode of operation to be slowly puzzled out. In short, I want the tech to be both plausible and wonderful.

Parahumanity

I imagine that back in the Kora Képesség (Old Days) the Emberek (Martians) used high bio-tech on themselves and their progeny, producing a range of essentially parahuman races. I take it that any feature that was an advantage in the ultra-high-tech conditions and depraved society of the late Kora Képesség will have be achieved at some sort of metabolic or other biological cost, and that therefore many of the parahuman types will have died out, and that many features produced by germ-line genegineering will have been eliminated by five thousand years of harsh selection for lives of poverty at reduced tech.

But some types, and some traits, will remain. What do you suggest and recommend?

Genegineered crops

It is an obvious but often-overlooked application of ground-up genetic engineering that crop plants will be designed as solar-powered bio-tech chemical factories, producing high-tech fuels, fibres, adhesives, food, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, explosives, propellants etc. in as advanced a state of processing as can be managed without refrigeration etc. That is, crops will be designed to produce high-tech drugs, making herbalists fantastically expensive, kelvar will be a bast fibre, making "linen" bulletproof, amoxycillin will grow on trees. Crop plants will be genegineered to minimise processing.

It also seems obvious that crop planets will be designed to minimise cultivation. Most will be perennials so that each plantation only needs tilling one. They will fix their own nitrogen, etc. and they will bear their produce in a form and in a part of the plant, and present it in a way, that makes it easy and cheap to harvest and ready to distribute. What's more, the harvest of these crop plants need not be a fruit or seed or stalk, or fruit: it need have no metabolic, structural, or reproductive property for the plant. One can imagine, for example, a tree that produces sealed ration packs in light tough pods, with no seeds or function in storing energy for the plant.

Bio-tech robots and computers

What roles are there for genegineered animals? They need not have been common in the Kora Képesség to have replaced the decaying hard tech. On the other hand, I don't really see genegineered traction engines or vehicles making it. There will be the descendants of pets, of guard "dogs", perhaps of "grazing" animals that collect plant products "automatically" from large fields of low productivity. What else? Pollinators? Pest-control predators?

S.M. Stirling's decadent Mars had biotech robots with distinctly more brainpower than was strictly necessary. Too too much of the biotech could speak, and its favourite word was "Food?". I plan to borrow this quirk.

Micro-organisms

And of course we must not forget cultures and ferments, which will basically perform final processing of materials to produce foods, drugs, cosmetics etc. that would not be safe or stable if grown in a plantation.

Extinction

In some cases it will have been cheaper and more convenient to intervene in ontogeny during propagation than to design a fully self-reproducing organism. For example, tissue from different strains might have been grafted together to produce the more advanced organisms. If the tools, techniques, or basic strains were lost, high-tech organisms will have gone extinct when the last chimeras died, or sterile chimeras that grow power cells (for example) might be irreplacable, carefully nurtured legacies.

Evolutionary degeneration

In many cases genegineered organisms, producing or doing something for humans rather than for their own good, might be at a severe metabolic disadvantage compared to weeds and wild animals, unable to propagate themselves without husbandry, even dependent on "owners" to survive. What does not remain useful in changed circumstances may die out, or be out-competed by less-wonderful competitors, or may evolve to its own biological advantage and cease to produce as much, as good, or anything for humans.


Those are the general principles that occur to me. Anything to add? Any obvious examples?
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Last edited by Agemegos; 08-02-2011 at 10:54 PM.
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Old 08-02-2011, 11:16 PM   #2
Johnny1A.2
 
Join Date: Feb 2007
Default Re: Reinventing Barsoom: 2 — Parahumans and legacy genetic engineering

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brett View Post
Spoiler warning: if you are going to play in my campaign Red-Blooded Earth-Men, reading this thread will materially diminish your enjoyment thereof.

If you go ahead anyway, please do not convey spoilers to the other players. If you do, your character will be skinned alive, and I will not give you any cheesecake.


SPOILER SPACE

SPOILER SPACE

SPOILER SPACE

SPOILER SPACE

SPOILER SPACE

SPOILER SPACE

SPOILER SPACE

SPOILER SPACE

In September I am going to start running a new campaign inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom series (especially Master Mind of Mars), S.M. Stirling's In the Courts of the Crimson Kings, Jack Vance's Tschai (Planet of Adventure) series, and the movie Stargate. The premise is that four Australian soldiers are mysteriously transported from the battlefields in France in December 1917 to the habitable, indeed inhabited, surface of Mars.

In accordance with sci-fi convention from before about 1970, Mars is going to be an older world than Earth, afflicted by desiccation, inhabited by the decadent remnants of a culture that once had a tech level far higher than Earth has. I think I will place the fall of the last (already decadent) régiváros (technological stronghold) to the barbarians at about the time of the rise of civilisation on Earth. I think that about 1917 that was believed to be about 3200 BC. Surviving examples of the highest tech will be five thousand years old, an must be either extremely durable, very carefully preserved, self-repairing, or self-reproducing.

In designing the remaining tech of Mars (or Világ as it in known in the Martian language Szólásmód), I want to achieve the sensawunda of Clarkean magic with minimal strain on players' suspension of disbelief, which means designing the relict technology and legacy biotech in terms that would satisfy the players and then concealing my working to present it as magic to the characters, its mode of operation to be slowly puzzled out. In short, I want the tech to be both plausible and wonderful.

Parahumanity

I imagine that back in the Kora Képesség (Old Days) the Emberek (Martians) used high bio-tech on themselves and their progeny, producing a range of essentially parahuman races. I take it that any feature that was an advantage in the ultra-high-tech conditions and depraved society of the late Kora Képesség will have be achieved at some sort of metabolic or other biological cost, and that therefore many of the parahuman types will have died out, and that many features produced by germ-line genegineering will have been eliminated by five thousand years of harsh selection for lives of poverty at reduced tech.

But some types, and some traits, will remain. What do you suggest and recommend?

Genegineered crops

It is an obvious but often-overlooked application of ground-up genetic engineering that crop plants will be designed as solar-powered bio-tech chemical factories, producing high-tech fuels, fibres, adhesives, food, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, explosives, propellants etc. in as advanced a state of processing as can be managed without refrigeration etc. That is, crops will be designed to produce high-tech drugs, making herbalists fantastically expensive, kelvar will be a bast fibre, making "linen" bulletproof, amoxycillin will grow on trees. Crop plants will be genegineered to minimise processing.

It also seems obvious that crop planets will be designed to minimise cultivation. Most will be perennials so that each plantation only needs tilling one. They will fix their own nitrogen, etc. and they will bear their produce in a form and in a part of the plant, and present it in a way, that makes it easy and cheap to harvest and ready to distribute. What's more, the harvest of these crop plants need not be a fruit or seed or stalk, or fruit: it need have no metabolic, structural, or reproductive property for the plant. One can imagine, for example, a tree that produces sealed ration packs in light tough pods, with no seeds or function in storing energy for the plant.

Bio-tech robots and computers

What roles are there for genegineered animals? They need not have been common in the Kora Képesség to have replaced the decaying hard tech. On the other hand, I don't really see genegineered traction engines or vehicles making it. There will be the descendants of pets, of guard "dogs", perhaps of "grazing" animals that collect plant products "automatically" from large fields of low productivity. What else? Pollinators? Pest-control predators?

S.M. Stirling's decadent Mars had biotech robots with distinctly more brainpower than was strictly necessary. Too too much of the biotech could speak, and its favourite word was "Food?". I plan to borrow this quirk.

Micro-organisms

And of course we must not forget cultures and ferments, which will basically perform final processing of materials to produce foods, drugs, cosmetics etc. that would not be safe or stable if grown in a plantation.

Extinction

In some cases it will have been cheaper and more convenient to intervene in ontogeny during propagation than to design a fully self-reproducing organism. For example, tissue from different strains might have been grafted together to produce the more advanced organisms. If the tools, techniques, or basic strains were lost, high-tech organisms will have gone extinct when the last chimeras died, or sterile chimeras that grow power cells (for example) might be irreplacable, carefully nurtured legacies.

Evolutionary degeneration

In many cases genegineered organisms, producing or doing something for humans rather than for their own good, might be at a severe metabolic disadvantage compared to weeds and wild animals, unable to propagate themselves without husbandry, even dependent on "owners" to survive. What does not remain useful in changed circumstances may die out, or be out-competed by less-wonderful competitors, or may evolve to its own biological advantage and cease to produce as much, as good, or anything for humans.


Those are the general principles that occur to me. Anything to add? Any obvious examples?
I have some thoughts, but I'm too tired to focus on them. One thing about 1917 attitudes: there might be a tendency to regard biotech in particular as dangerous or unnatural, 'frankensteinian'. You might make use of that to help set a tone...or maybe 1917 was onto something?
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Old 08-03-2011, 12:04 AM   #3
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Default Re: Reinventing Barsoom: 2 — Parahumans and legacy genetic engineering

Now just a minute: The Hungarians are immigrants from Mars? All right, I'll grant that John von Neumann was an intellect vast and cool. . . .

Bill Stoddard
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Old 08-03-2011, 12:18 AM   #4
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Default Re: Reinventing Barsoom: 2 — Parahumans and legacy genetic engineering

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Originally Posted by Brett View Post
Parahumanity

I imagine that back in the Kora Képesség (Old Days) the Emberek (Martians) used high bio-tech on themselves and their progeny, producing a range of essentially parahuman races. I take it that any feature that was an advantage in the ultra-high-tech conditions and depraved society of the late Kora Képesség will have be achieved at some sort of metabolic or other biological cost, and that therefore many of the parahuman types will have died out, and that many features produced by germ-line genegineering will have been eliminated by five thousand years of harsh selection for lives of poverty at reduced tech.

But some types, and some traits, will remain. What do you suggest and recommend?
The Dying Mars setting in GURPS Mars does a fair job of this.

What kind of parahumans will exist is going to depend on what kind of society Mars had when they were created. Theocratic, aristocratic, consumer capitalist, technocratic, caste-based? That will determine the raw material.

Unless the genetic lineages were mutually sterile, mongrelization will have erased the differences and reverted them to wild type.

* An amphibious race created to maintain the canals, and now living in and along them, sailing up and down them, and probably carrying on most of whatever trade the planet has.

* An entertainer or courtesan race talented at manipulating others, possibly with levels of Smooth Operator or Charisma.

* A guardian race, now living tribal lives based on mutual loyalty and clannishness, possibly as sanguinivores.

* The original race, driven out into remote wild areas and now adapted to live as nomads under the harshest conditions.

Quote:
Genegineered crops

It is an obvious but often-overlooked application of ground-up genetic engineering that crop plants will be designed as solar-powered bio-tech chemical factories, producing high-tech fuels, fibres, adhesives, food, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, explosives, propellants etc. in as advanced a state of processing as can be managed without refrigeration etc. That is, crops will be designed to produce high-tech drugs, making herbalists fantastically expensive, kelvar will be a bast fibre, making "linen" bulletproof, amoxycillin will grow on trees. Crop plants will be genegineered to minimise processing.

It also seems obvious that crop planets will be designed to minimise cultivation. Most will be perennials so that each plantation only needs tilling one. They will fix their own nitrogen, etc. and they will bear their produce in a form and in a part of the plant, and present it in a way, that makes it easy and cheap to harvest and ready to distribute. What's more, the harvest of these crop plants need not be a fruit or seed or stalk, or fruit: it need have no metabolic, structural, or reproductive property for the plant. One can imagine, for example, a tree that produces sealed ration packs in light tough pods, with no seeds or function in storing energy for the plant.
See Jared Diamond's brief discussion of Tikopia in his Collapse.

Bill Stoddard
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Old 08-03-2011, 12:39 AM   #5
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Default Re: Reinventing Barsoom: 2 — Parahumans and legacy genetic engineering

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Now just a minute: The Hungarians are immigrants from Mars? All right, I'll grant that John von Neumann was an intellect vast and cool. . . .
Leo Szilard thought so. Enrico Fermi asked "If the universe is teeming with intelligent life, where are they?" Szilard answered "They are among us, and they call themselves 'Hungarians'".
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Old 08-03-2011, 10:30 AM   #6
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Default Re: Reinventing Barsoom: 2 — Parahumans and legacy genetic engineering

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[B][Micro-organisms
Standing surface water would not be salty due to salf-fixing micro-organisms.

Cover the dead sea bottoms with ochre moss/lichen to help prevent erosion and dust-storms while keeping up the oxygen production (much of Earth's oxygen comes from plankton).

The moss is ochre rather than green to best use the dim sunlight. Trust me on this. The Ancients made it that way. :)
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Old 08-03-2011, 09:09 PM   #7
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Default Re: Reinventing Barsoom: 2 — Parahumans and legacy genetic engineering

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Originally Posted by Brett View Post
[B]
Parahumanity
Genegineered crops

It is an obvious but often-overlooked application of ground-up genetic engineering that crop plants will be designed as solar-powered bio-tech chemical factories, producing high-tech fuels, fibres, adhesives, food, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, explosives, propellants etc. in as advanced a state of processing as can be managed without refrigeration etc. That is, crops will be designed to produce high-tech drugs, making herbalists fantastically expensive, kelvar will be a bast fibre, making "linen" bulletproof, amoxycillin will grow on trees. Crop plants will be genegineered to minimise processing.
Plausibility caution: keep in mind that photosynthesis is limited by both its effiiciency of energy conversion and the supply amd quality of ambient light. On Mars, the supply of light will be less, to the tune of about .44 that of Earth, IIRC. So any given plant only has 44% of the light that is available on Earth. Clearer skies and thinner air might make up for some of that, but won't compensate entirely.

Absent superscience, this puts fairly hard limits on what your bioplants can do in a given time. That's not to say they can't work, but they won't be fast for anything that requries a lot of energy to process or make. So if a plant makes fuel, then it's going to make modest amounts over a period of time, unless you've got huge areas of ground covered in plants to make the fuel for a few vehicles and machines (which might actually form a useful basis for the power politics of a region).

One could imagine fights over control over a square mile of dark-green-leaved fuel plants, but with attacker and defender carefully avoiding damaging the plantation itself...

Food is no big problem, cosmetics, clothing fibers probably not, they shouldn't take huge amounts of energy, and if the plants make them to last, that's a viable approach. OTOH, fuel is a bitch, if it's being converted from solar power, there's just no way around the fact that such a plant will need long periods of sunlight to make fairly modest amounts of fuel or propellant. There is only 'x' amount of energy to be harvested from a square meter of sunlight, and the plant can't convert it all.

Alien farming: one might see vast fields of plants, with leaves of a green so dark that it could be mistaken for light black, surrounded by fields of polished metal mirrors that gather additional sunlight and focus it onto the fields of plants, to raise the incident energy level. The mirrors need not be sophisticated, they could be simple polished copper or brass or the like, though they'd have to be regularly adjusted for maximum effect.

Quote:


Bio-tech robots and computers

What roles are there for genegineered animals? They need not have been common in the Kora Képesség to have replaced the decaying hard tech. On the other hand, I don't really see genegineered traction engines or vehicles making it.
They might not have been that specialized. If one used genegineering to make a miniature 'elephant', maybe with multiple trunks capped with manipulative hands, on all sides of its body, and gave it a mind that was able to learn from experience but programmed for doglike devotion, you might have a very versatile and effective field worker, and one that might be able to make it in the wild if need be, too. It could be a traction machine, a field hand, or a guard dog, all in the same animal.
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Old 08-04-2011, 12:02 AM   #8
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Default Re: Reinventing Barsoom: 2 — Parahumans and legacy genetic engineering

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Plausibility caution: keep in mind that photosynthesis is limited by both its effiiciency of energy conversion and the supply amd quality of ambient light. On Mars, the supply of light will be less, to the tune of about .44 that of Earth, IIRC. So any given plant only has 44% of the light that is available on Earth. Clearer skies and thinner air might make up for some of that, but won't compensate entirely.
That's right. All agriculture on Mars that is limited by the availability of light (rather than by the availability of water or minerals or warmth) will be significantly less productive than similar agriculture limited by lack of light on Earth. I get a figure of 39%.

Quote:
Absent superscience, this puts fairly hard limits on what your bioplants can do in a given time. That's not to say they can't work, but they won't be fast for anything that requries a lot of energy to process or make.
Sure, but they will be at least as fast as growing a feedstock in fields and then processing it to a final product in a chemical plant.

Quote:
So if a plant makes fuel, then it's going to make modest amounts over a period of time, unless you've got huge areas of ground covered in plants to make the fuel for a few vehicles and machines (which might actually form a useful basis for the power politics of a region).
Quite. The process will have fundamental limit on its fuel production per hectare that is lower than the fundamental limit on making biofuels in Brazilian sugar-cane fields. But it might equal present Brazilian bioethanol production by not wasting energy on a continual production of cellulose. And it can save the fermentation step.

Quote:
One could imagine fights over control over a square mile of dark-green-leaved fuel plants, but with attacker and defender carefully avoiding damaging the plantation itself...
Good point. It's like the reputed difference between to politics of coffee colonies and sugar colonies. The established plantations will be an important form of valuable capital, more so and more universally than on Earth, where a standing crop might very likely consist of annuals.

Quote:
Food is no big problem, cosmetics, clothing fibers probably not, they shouldn't take huge amounts of energy, and if the plants make them to last, that's a viable approach. OTOH, fuel is a bitch, if it's being converted from solar power, there's just no way around the fact that such a plant will need long periods of sunlight to make fairly modest amounts of fuel or propellant. There is only 'x' amount of energy to be harvested from a square meter of sunlight, and the plant can't convert it all.
The same issue bites with food. A typical 2,000 kcalorie diet is 8.37 MJ/person/day, and requires as much energy as 0.064 gallons of gasoline.

Quote:
Alien farming: one might see vast fields of plants, with leaves of a green so dark that it could be mistaken for light black, surrounded by fields of polished metal mirrors that gather additional sunlight and focus it onto the fields of plants, to raise the incident energy level. The mirrors need not be sophisticated, they could be simple polished copper or brass or the like, though they'd have to be regularly adjusted for maximum effect.
I think it would be cheaper just to sow seed over an area than to cover it with mirrors. You can't increase the average productivity, so its a matter of whether concentrating it with mirrors is cheaper than collecting it with extra plants. I guess concentrating it would reduced harvesting costs, too, but I think that's only viable is mirrors are both durable and very cheap.

[i]They might not have been that specialized. If one used genegineering to make a miniature 'elephant', maybe with multiple trunks capped with manipulative hands, on all sides of its body, and gave it a mind that was able to learn from experience but programmed for doglike devotion, you might have a very versatile and effective field worker, and one that might be able to make it in the wild if need be, too. It could be a traction machine, a field hand, or a guard dog, all in the same animal.[/QUOTE]

Possibly, but I'm always suspicious of Swiss Army knives. As the Space Shuttle and the F-35 show, multi-function equipment usually turns out to be less economical than a set of specialised tools. Unless you capital is underemployed and usually idle, that is.
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Old 08-04-2011, 01:32 AM   #9
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Default Re: Reinventing Barsoom: 2 — Parahumans and legacy genetic engineering

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...
Possibly, but I'm always suspicious of Swiss Army knives. As the Space Shuttle and the F-35 show, multi-function equipment usually turns out to be less economical than a set of specialised tools. Unless you capital is underemployed and usually idle, that is.
But isn't that the theory for why baseline humans would out-compete gene modded in a post apocalyptic setting? I could have sworn you agreed with that. Multi-function items are useful in some situations.
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Old 08-04-2011, 03:44 AM   #10
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But isn't that the theory for why baseline humans would out-compete gene modded in a post apocalyptic setting?
No, that argument is different. Baseline humans are adapted by evolution for a low-tech setting, and are probably near a local optimum. Changes introduced by germ-line genegineering are likely either to be directly maladaptive in a poor, low-tech setting (e.g. inability to deposit "unsightly" reserves of fat) or to come at a metabolic cost that (although it is trivial in a food-rich, drug-rich high-tech setting) makes them a net loss in a poor low-tech setting setting. That's quite a different argument from specialised tools being more cost-effective than Swiss Army knives when fully employed. Nothing to do with specialisation at all.

I don't think I'm being inconsistent, and if I am it doesn't matter, because the players in this campaign haven't read that thread and won't notice.
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