Sunday, December 11, 2011

Scenes From the Class Struggle Aboard the Starship Warden

The design for the Warden “was the most ambitious ever attempted” and it was “the wonder of the Interstellar Colonization Age.” Doubtless, exorbitant amounts of resources were necessary for its construction. What would motivate the United Western Starship Cartel to do such a thing? During the (first) Age of Exploration, there was a commercial motive to establish colonies. The Warden, even if successful in its colonization mission, would not be a profitable venture because it would take generations to travel between Earth and the colony. To the Cartel, the Warden represents a huge cost but no return. Why bother? I think that the Warden construction project must have boosted the 23rd century economy. Maybe that was the entire purpose: to create jobs and stimulate growth. The Warden is merely incidental to the Cartel's financial objective of influencing the economy of the entire Solar System.

Although the Warden is a ship, in some ways it is a society; at least it was before the disaster. There is a crew of 50,000 and a colonist population of 1.5 million; a literal microcosm, self-sufficient by virtue of the vast environments and the miracles of 23rd century technology. According to the Introduction:

...[T]he colonists were not rigidly screened for the expedition, for it was held that the Warden's accommodations would place few physical or psychological stresses upon colonist or crewman.

If you want 1.5 million volunteers, I guess you can't be too choosy. I suppose that genetic engineering would have eliminated the more commonplace hereditary disorders. Besides, if the economy rather than the expedition was the goal, you might as well fill up the ship with telephone sanitizers and send it off.

Presumably, it would take the Warden several generations to reach its goal. The crew, at least, has a purpose. On the other hand, the colonists aren't really colonizing anything; their descendants will. Until they reach their destination, each generation of 'colonists' is merely breeding stock. Even a crew-person could be disheartened by the knowledge he or she will never reach the destination. I think it's possible that the ship's computer withholds the knowledge of how close the Warden is to the colony planet. In this way, any given person (beyond the first generation) might expect to arrive at the ship's destination. This would give the colonists something to do with their lives – prepare for the arduous tasks associated with establishing a colony, because they could be the colonist generation.

Society on the Warden comes with a built-in caste system in the form of color bands. The color of your skin doesn't matter, but the color of your band does. Imagine how the divisions among the crew might be perceived: Greens are so flighty; that's typical red behavior; I don't have anything against greys, but I wouldn't let my daughter marry one. Of course, if you're not crew, you're colonist – a 'commoner' with a brown band. I mean, without the color band system colonists might “stray into command or possibly harmful areas.” Dumb colonists. You know how they are. Last week I went slumming in the colonist levels and I heard this joke. Two whites, a green, and an android walk into an alcoholic beverage dispensary...

Given the multi-generational aspect of the ship's journey, there must be a system of education – up through advanced stages – so that responsibilities can be handed down from generation to generation. Perhaps all children undergo competency testing and are trained accordingly; a bright colonist child might even become a crew person. I suppose young children don't have bands at all. Perhaps “getting one's band” is a sign of maturity, a rite of passage akin to getting a driver's license back on 21st century Earth. Of course, the color of a young adult's band would be brown until he or she is accepted into one of the crew castes. Someone who flunks out will have a colonist's band for the rest of his or her life; a mark of shame for someone from a crew family.

According to page six, “The command personnel band is alternating blue and red...The security band is red.” What blue represents is not defined, but I think it must be the ship's bureaucracy. This would mean that command personnel would be drawn from the security and bureaucrat castes. Scientific and engineering castes would not qualify for command positions. Thus we have the basis for starship politics.

Page six also states that the Warden has four captains. Does that mean a primary captain and three 'deputy' captains? Or does that mean each captain has equal power, but that their responsibilities are distributed among them? Perhaps there is a council of captains with shared power and responsibilities. How are captains appointed? Are they democratically elected from among the command personnel? Who gets to vote? Is there colonist suffrage? Are the captain appointments for life? Maybe the ship's computer determines the captains via a meritocracy algorithm.

One final note: I would like to point out a mistake I made in my post on November 20, 2011. According to page 6, an artificial moon and stars appear during night cycles in the natural areas. I have added a postscript to that blog entry. The wolfoids do have something at which to howl after all.


  1. Reading these posts it becomes immediately apparent both where MA and Paranoia come from. MA's a surprise reveal halfway through a campaign, which probably started out as "what if the whole world were a megadungeon and there was no outside?" Paranoia's "what if the Warden were Earth?"

  2. duh. Alpha Complex. Excuse me while I catch up. Maybe it just never took off. Or maybe the surprise reveal in Paranoia is that there really, really is no outside - the Computer wasn't actually lying to you at all.

  3. Excellent point. I wasn't seeing the Paranoia forest through the Metamorphosis Alpha trees. Mutants, color divisions, the Computer, Alpha Complex...It's obvious now.

    Are you suggesting that the Computer might lie? I am reporting you for treason. The Computer is your friend.

    By the way, I am a Costikyan FAN BOY. You have been warned.

  4. Perdustin, how would you know about trees? Trees are outside and any knowledge of the outside is treason. The computer wants you to be happy. Treasonous thoughts and concepts make citizens unhappy. Please report to the medical lab to test a new treatment for your unhappiness.

  5. Keebler, how could you know what's outside? Obviously, you are a delusional subversive. The Computer is your friend.

  6. Listen I mean citizen. No one loves the computer more than I do.