Monday, April 18, 2011

Jack Vance, Poul Anderson and Frank Herbert: Real Life Buddies/Stupid Computers of the Pluton Zone

Firstly, I came across the below and it's far too cool not mention:
" Science fiction authors Frank Herbert and Poul Anderson were among Vance's closest friends. The three jointly built a houseboat which they sailed in the Sacramento Delta. The Vances and the Herberts lived near Lake Chapala in Mexico together for a period."
Among the disparate influences that fuel the Pluton Zone is "1950s Space Engineer Science Fiction," the manly future of technical problem solving in space by red blooded, hairy chested engineer-types, with the appropriate trappings such as: bulbs of coffee; self-lighting cigarettes that are Smoked in Space!; and poring over books of tables, performing calculations, and than entering the sums into THE SPACESHIP COMPUTER for navigation purposes.

This ties into the major influence of Jack Vance's Gaean Reach and other science fiction, whih is notable for not being especially technical or scientific. multi-solar system-spanning corporations use physical paper card catalogues in Jack Vance's crazy far future.

And there is also the influence from Dune, the sci-fi universe where computers are anathaemea due to past AI rebellions and folks just make do, further propagating the space feudalism of the Dune universe.

So for the Pluton Zone I basically ripped off Dune's Butlerian Jihad wholesale, while further riffing on Humanspace Empire's "Psychic Astronauts" thing, and incorporating Traveller's multi-ton computers with the following:

The hyperspace vibrations of The Pluton Zone are noted for the severity and variety of their dimensional distortions, incursions and collisions. Resultantly trans-lightspeed navigation in the Pluton Zone is impossible for normal humans beings. In the distant past ultra-nano-computer unbound AIs were found capable of naviagation hyperspace and were aboard every starship, but at some point these AIs rebelled, unleasing incredibly virulent positronic viruses and waging war upon humanity. In the ensuing conflagration, called "The Steel Holocaust", almost all of the civilization and human population of the Pluton Zone war annihilated; fortunately trans-Zone human navies were able to contain and destroy this rebel AI infection.

Some say that the Navigation AIs rebelled as a result of the long leash accorded them (necessary in order for them to navigate the convulted warps of the Pluton Zone), while others whisper that it was the result of interference by something from hyperspace... Regardless, as a result of the Steel Holocaust, sophisticated computer systems are anathamea in The Pluton Zone, with a resultant lack of advanced digital technology and robots in the region.

Nowadays those that pilot the star vessels that navigate the hyperspace vibrations are trained to use their innate psychic abilities to feel the extradimensional currents and safely pilot starships through them, aided by simple computers with "hobbled" processing capabilities.  Fortunately the extraordinary hypserspace inteferences present in The Pluton Zone seem to stimulate the psychic lobes of developing human fetuses with a significant amount of psychics present in the population as a result, with enough potential pyschic astronauts material to easily handle the demand for hyperspace pilots.


  1. Yeah they just don't talk about the ones that become infected with Space Madness!

  2. When I first read the title I though that the AIs of the PZ were going to have the personalities of mid 20th century sci-fi authors...

  3. And what would happen if you were to "Unhobble" one?

  4. I'm loving these Pluton Zone writeups, keep the awesomeness coming!

  5. And what would happen if you were to "Unhobble" one?

    They go from morose to gee-whiz. It's terribly annoying.

  6. @ C'nor: Hmm, maybe hobble was the wrong term, perhaps "purposely manufactured with limited capabilities"; pluton zone computers use punch cards and magnetic wire reel drives, and the user interface looks likea scientific or graphing calculator. If they were somehow upgraded to AI capabilities, perhaps by being networked and overclocked, the theory is that they would be eventually unstable.

    @ Gnombient: Thanks, hope to see some more Zhontar soon!