Sunday, January 1, 2012

Rationalizing Anachronisms

More Metamorphosis Alpha Analysis  
As we progress into the new year, let us consider the inscrutability of the future as well as how much our world has changed since the mid-70s, when Ward imagined the time of Metamorphosis Alpha. Given the state of our technology now, there are a few aspects of the Warden that seem peculiarly primitive. Of course, we can hardly fault Ward for envisioning the future with imperfect accuracy; even if he possessed the mental mutation of precognition, he would only be able to see three minutes into the future.* Most of these 'anachronisms' can be 'corrected' because they have little or no impact upon the setting. For instance, “Operation tapes” for robots – a referee can disregard this notion and assume a 'modern' control technology for robots. However, not all anachronisms can be dismissed so easily; for such anachronisms, I like to rationalize why they exist given technology we have in the 21st century.
The 'Means of Exchange' section on page 24 references “domars” as monetary units.** Physically, a domar is “a small, lightweight plastic type of coin that was [reasonably] indestructible.” (Why not make them out of duralloy?) Gamma World provides additional information, stating that domars are “inlayed [sic] with colors and symbols denoting various denominations.” In a multi-generation starship, would they really serve a purpose? With regard to the Warden, the rules state...
...[T]here was no need for “money” as such, so the domar was not widely used except for gambling and other such diversions.
So, rather than as currency, domars were used as glorified poker chips? Actually, poker chips have value because they represent money. Gambling is exciting because something of value is at stake. If there is no resource that imbues domars with value, their effectiveness for gambling purposes is rather limited. They fail as a means of exchange because there is nothing to exchange. A 'token economy' on the pre-disaster Warden might make sense; domars could be used to acquire privileges and items of limited distribution. If only from a sociological perspective, circulation of domars could be worthwhile. Regardless, I think that monetary transactions for whatever purpose – including recreational – could be handled on board the Warden by the equivalent of an ATM network and cards; physical coins would not be necessary.
Physical domar coins would have no purpose on route to the colonization planet, but would be useful as currency on the frontiers of the planet until ATM networks are established. Domar coins can be rationalized as establishing an economy necessary for the colonial stage of the Warden's mission.
Ward states on page 6, “The office section of the city contains the microfilmed and paper records necessary to operate the giant ship and keep track of all its equipment and people.” I think we can safely assume that microfilm will not have any practical application in the 23rd century. It is possible that the Warden bureaucracy could be paperless – certainly the records can be electronic – but let's assume there will always be need for some amount of paper. Over several generations of more than a million people, a substantial volume of paper will be consumed. Even with efficient recycling processes, it will be necessary to create 'new' paper. Fortunately, the Warden has several forests. With scientifically precise “managed sustainability,” the Warden can easily accommodate its paper needs. Also, making paper gives the colonists something else to do.
The 'Languages' section on page 24 mentions that the main ship's computer “continually updates its robots” on the common language.*** However, “robots deactivated prior to the...disaster...will [upon reactivation] immediately go to the nearest computer tie-in for instructions...” Wireless technology precludes the necessity for physical “tie-ins” and we know that radio signals can permeate the ship. However, if a robot has been off-line for decades or more, perhaps wireless re-calibration would be necessary via a physical connection.
*  Regarding the precognition mutation described on page 16, Ward states, “It is perfectly all right for the mutant to change the course of history by acting on this information…” Precognition “requires intense concentration,” so it's not a passive ability. In Metamorphosis Alpha, there are no other restrictions but Gamma World recommends limiting the number of times per day (d4 or d6) that precognition can be employed. Also in Gamma World, the mutant suffers damage when it foresees damage to itself. If the mutant foresees its own death, it automatically loses consciousness for 3-18 minutes. Assuming that the mutant cannot change the course of history while unconscious, this would seem to guarantee the mutant's demise. So how often can the mutant change the course of history with one precognitive episode? A great many choices can be made within a span of three minutes. For a simplistic example, let us assume the precognitive mutant comes across a wall panel with five buttons. Three minutes would allow each button to be pressed individually as well as many combinations of buttons to be pressed. Although not expressly stated, Ward may have intended only one 'probability path' to be followed per precognitive episode.
**  Curiously, a Russian website named 'domar' refers a significant number of visits to this blog.
***  Would different levels of the ship have different dialects?

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