Back to the Future

Almost as soon as decided to set my pulpy adventure novel in a contemporary background, I started thinking about it somewhere else.

The nature of the story I outlined just feels to me like it wants a more expansive setting than what would be possible within the restrictions of the contemporary fantasy background I had initially planned to use. Fortunately, being a geek in long standing, I have quite a few existing backgrounds, which I refer to as continua, already fleshed out and ready to go.

The continuum that feels best for how I’m envisioning the pulp novel is a science fiction background I’ve been working on for about 10 years, a space opera setting with a distinctly dark undertow. However, the nature of this setting also allows a certain degree of the contemporary cultural flavor that I want for the story, as there are elements of this continua that are not all that different from the real world of today.

Here is this continua in a nutshell. Sometime in the middle of the 21st century, scientists and engineers develop a revolutionary new technology that allows the creation of a portal from one point in space to any other point in the visible universe. This technology is implemented in the form of stargates in orbit, as the power requirements and other factors make it more practical for these devices to be constructed as large portals in space.

Because a stargate can link to anywhere as easily as anywhere else, the concept of interstellar, even intergalactic, distances is almost irrelevant, and there soon arises a network, or matrix, of habitable worlds connected by stargates. This new interstellar culture expands and develops for about 300 terrestrial years.

Then, something happens. Without warning, the entire stargate matrix malfunctions. Some gates misdirect their portals, opening in the middle of stars, which destroys the gate. Some just open up far away from their intended targets, stranding travellers in the far reaches of interstellar space. Some gates just stop working entirely, and others inexplicably vanish. These unprecedented events throw the great interstellar matrix into turmoil. The greatest resource in the universe becomes those few stargates that appear to be functioning normally, and for 20 years, the remnants of this interstellar culture fight it out for control of those gates.

Almost as suddenly as it started, the turmoil stops. Gates that had stopped working start up again. All the functional gates that remain return to being reliable and functional — within limits.

Even at the height of the interstellar matrix civilization, a stargate’s controlling artificial intelligence could only hold a few destinations in its active memory. For commercial and economic reasons, it was more efficient for a stargate to only maintain links to a few other star systems and cycle through those links on a regular schedule. After the end of the Collapse, as the crisis came to be known, the functional stargates could only link to some systems, mostly those they had in memory when the collapse began. Attempts to reprogram the stargates sometimes ended in disaster. What’s more, the technology required to build new stargates was lost in the conflict surrounding the Collapse. Oh, certainly, they could build the massive space stations that made up the stargates, and the artificial intelligences needed to run them, but for some reason, something was missing, and these new systems were not able to work properly.

Rather than restoring the great interstellar matrix, the many Human populated worlds became divided into a number of much smaller, but reasonably stable, matrices. It isn’t entirely impossible to travel between matrices, but it’s potentially dangerous, as the links between them are not entirely stable, and could conceivably fail at any time.

This is the situation that has existed for about 600 terrestrial years, or years-standard. The ability to build new stargates has never been rediscovered. Some elements of the existing stargates can be replaced with new components, but some of them can’t, and after 600 years, those irreplaceable components are becoming more and more scarce. Human culture has evolved and expanded, but within the restrictions of the fragile stargate matrix as it exists now.

The central location in this continua, for my storytelling purposes, is called the Daedalus Matrix, a collection of about 25 star systems that coalesced following the Collapse some 600 years ago. Although the inhabitants of the matrix have access to technology far more advanced than we’re familiar with in the real world, their culture has reached a point that isn’t all that different from what we’re familiar with, more or less. What goes around, comes around and all that.

Anyway, I think my pulp novel feels much better existing in this continua. We’ll see how that works out.

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