Part 2 of our Crib Notes series, giving you a quick and dirty lowdown on some of the background fluff of the world of The Drowned Earth!
You get a windmill. You get a hydro-dam and YOU get a nuclear reactor!
To many, “civilisation” is a dirty word. Chances are though, those people haven’t worked in a paddy field ten hours a day and gone home to a house with no electricity or running water. The Pre-Fall civilisation was undoubtedly advanced, having reached the stars, mastered the gene and the atom, and conquered many of the secrets of the physical world. Their technology is simply lying around, and nobody can say exactly for how long. In many cases longevity was not a design consideration, and so it is amazing that anything has survived in working order at all. However, in sealed chambers true treasures can be found.
In the land of Ulaya technology is… well, mixed. Floating down the river you will just as easily find a steam paddle boat passing a group of dug out canoes, and every so often hear the buzz of a petrol fuelled outboard motor. You see, living in a world where the wreckage of a lost civilisation is all around you, the level of knowledge and potential might be far greater than the economy which would need to support such technology.
Lets look at an example. There’s a laboratory in the Eastern Great Lagoon Network where an engineer has spent much of his life taking apart and putting back together old computer technology. Computing is notoriously difficult. So many of the components are made with micro-technology which cannot be reproduced in a world where steam power is the norm. So the engineer is an expert in gathering and classifying the components which make up the computers which are his first and foremost love. Where he can, he tests them, and tries to assemble a working computer from the tiny proportion of viable parts he finds.
That isn’t the end of his problems though. assembling the parts he needs requires rare mentals and compounds which are simply not used any more, even if he can identify what they are. So he is involved in yet another secondary economy of refining and separating sources of the materials he needs.
As you can imagine, this is both painstaking and unreliable work.
At the end of many months of work he, if he is lucky, has a computer which may work for a few hours before breaking, and he will have to continue the process of identifying which part has failed and needs to be replaced.
All of this is predicated on a reliable and even source of electricity- another thing which doesn’t really exist in Ulaya!
The Small Town Perspective
Some towns have limited electricity- primitive generators have been crafted or old ones salvaged. Solar panels have been one pre-fall technology which seems to have aged quite well in many cases, and fragments of them can be found powering simple hand crafted light bulbs, or inter-town crystal radios.
However, sometimes the knowledge to maintain such devices is rarer than the devices themselves. Why not train more people then? Well, that depends on how essential the technology is. Pulling an essnetial worker from the fields to maintain an electric lightbulb rather than grow essential food is not a great decision.
So at its heart the problem is economic. Maintaining technology is only viable if it will improve productivity, and if the supply and knowledge is there to re-create that technology reliably. Sure, big towns might have electric lights on the streets, and many houses have a bulb or two as well, but out in the sticks it’s all oil lamps and fruit picking.
Things are certainly improving. The ability to refine and sort the rubble of the former civilisation has become an industry in itself. Most places in Ulaya have a skilled metal worker and tools to make a steam engine, and a tinkerer who can fix a radio, but in the bigger centres factories are beginning to churn out precision engineered firearms, woven fabric and milled steel. Chemists are formulating essential substances for use in industry and at home.
In short, many parts of Ulaya are undergoing an industrial revolution.
And yet to many, it is all so primitive. Surrounded by the achievements of their ancestors, and able to glimpse through archives and printed materials, the world as it once was, scholars are often in possession of secret knowledge so advanced that it will be hundreds of years before their society can take advantage of it.
The deficit between what can be observed and experimented with by an individual, and what can be reliably and regularly reproduced by an economy, remains huge. But it is closing.
Next time on the Cribnotes series: Economy…