Developments on the colonies before the invention of FTL

Vicissitudes of the colonies

Unless the people founding a colony were completely impractical, the first ship brought pioneers: a team of biological and ecological engineers to terraform the planet, essential support staff, terraformation gear, and enough survival equipment for them to live for years without agriculture. The pioneers’ task was to exterminate any native life that was incompatible with an Earth-type biosphere (most was), and introduce suitable plants and animals in appropriate stages. Thus they established biomes that spread themselves across the land, forming soil if necessary, poisoning native life if necessary, creating a suitable environment for human crops and livestock.

Pioneers had an uncomfortable life at first, and they required a great deal of equipment and supplies. They worked to the benefit of all subsequent arrivals, and expected compensation. Pioneers’ travel and equipment had to be subsidised. They often paid no passage. Pioneering was a path to the stars of people who could not afford their own passage and survival equipment.

Later ships brought colonists with skills and equipment to start building a community and economy. Later still settlers with general skills brought critical components for local industries and exchanged them for fully-finished local products on arrival. The communications and transport lags were far to long for the colonies to advise Earth in a timely fashion of shortages and gluts: migrants to older colonies anticipated economic development at their destinations, and brought gradually more sophisticated components and fewer finished products. There were consultancies that predicted the development of colonies and advised settlers on what goods to take.

If a colony developed faster than expected settlers found themselves with too many goods that could have been made locally and not enough high-value critical components. The colony found itself short of high-tech components, and this slowed development to the expected pace.

On the other hand, if a colony developed more slowly than expected on Earth, a development gap would open up. Settlers would find that the local economy was not advanced enough to use the strategic components they had brought, and that their trade goods were of little worth. The colony’s economy would find itself glutted with stuff it was not quite sophisticated enough to use, and with a critical shortage of products in the gap between the most sophisticated things it could make and the least sophisticated things that the immigrants brought in quantity.

Development gaps were most common in utopist colonies, which tended to attract migrants with unrealistic beliefs about the colony’s efficiency, and who did not consult or believe impartial development consultancies.

Severe development gap sometimes led to a failure of development, and a ‘post apocalyptic’ economy in which fully-assembled high-tech tools from Earth were rare treasures in a basically primitive society.

Strain often developed between immigrants and locals, especially as locally-born generations replaced the pioneers and early settlers. In utopist and separatist colonies religious or ideological conflict was common. Sometimes the religion or ideology developed in different direction on the colony and Earth. In others the settlers were disenchanted when the plan failed, or failed to pass on their values to their children: the ideological government was overthrown, but doctrinaire migrants continued to arrive for decades. In other cases the colonisation rights fell out of the hands of the founding group, and the new owners thought to take advantage of the work of the pioneers without sharing their doctrines.

On other colonies differences emerged between the pioneers and their heirs on one hand, and new migrants with much wealth in trade goods on the other. The first had wealth only in land, which they or their ancestors had made habitable, and they needed to exchange that for critical imports from Earth. The second had often paid colony promoters large sums for large promises, and did not propose to pay twice for a share in the colony and its public goods. According to circumstances and events, the locals might end up as aristocrats or an underclass, or anything in between.

The Age of Isolation

The sudden cessation of migration from Earth abruptly halted economic development of all colonies except those which had already fallen into a catastrophic development gap. Import-dependent manufacturing shut down. Every colony suffered a severe economic shock and went into recession (or an alternative mechanism for liquidating defunct enterprises). Most suffered a depression or complete economic collapses. Riots, revolutions, and coups were common.

A few colonies, those with dynamic economies and robust institutions, bounced back in about a generation, and resumed economic development. Many, for various reasons, took longer to recover, and afterwards developed only slowly. A substantial minority stagnated. Some slid down into barbarism and savagery from which they still show no signs of recovering.

Conditions on the colonies when news reached them that Earth had been destroyed varied enormously. Tau Ceti, 11.9 light-years from Sol, was 250 years old. It had a population of 107 million. Its native manufacturing was capable of GURPS TL 9 (advanced) / ForeSight TL 7.0. At the other extreme, pioneers had only been on Feilong (145.9 light-years from Sol) for a month when they heard. On Kubera there was no manufacturing capacity. There wasn’t even agriculture. 500 pioneers struggled to create crop plants from terraforming stock even while they were taming a world.

The economic development of each colony adjusted to a level determined by its population, its wealth, and the extent to which its institutions and public infrastructure supported economic integration, specialisation, and exchange. Most colonies had small populations when their last migrants arrived. Only 38 had so many as a million people, and one million is too few to staff an industrial economy much beyond GURPS TL 6 / ForeSight TL 4.5. Most had inadequate stocks of appropriate capital for self-sufficient manufacturing. Many had, and in the political chaos more developed, lousy institutions. The economies that emerged were often pretty basic.

At first, these economies did not much resemble historical tech levels: there were legacies of high-tech products which had been imported during the Age of Migration. But as the populations grew and tools wore out, old stuff from Earth grew rarer and was mostly confined to use by the privileged. Economies grew to resemble historical tech levels in many respects, and converged on time-worn paths of development, stagnation, or decay. The chief exception was in materials and livestock. Most colonies had substantial legacies of engineered plants, animals, and micro-organisms from Old Earth, which continued to provide high-tech materials (fibres, polymers, drugs, etc.) even while these were used to make pseudo-mediaeval products.

Populations grew. Even where tech levels collapsed, there were initially no or few pathogens of humans or their crops or livestock. Populations were small, so there was initially plenty of land. Plague and pestilence were rare until new pathogens evolved. Only on marginally habitable planets, where the terraforming had been done badly, and in the oldest colonies with the largest populations did land ever become scarce, and even there it took centuries. So chronic famine was rare and even warfare was muted. The most common causes of political violence were attempts to overthrow or to preserve ideological governments on utopist and religious separatist colonies.

Those colonies which had been longest settled and most successful had ‘general migrants’ in their populations, and had been open to cultural influences from Earth. Their societies reflected the cosmopolitan cultural mainstream of Earth with only minor idiosyncrasies. But only about fourteen colonies had a strong general migrant influence in their populations: Fureidis (41%), Iter (40%), Xin Tian Di (39%), Pentecost (38%), Paraíso (36%), Tau Ceti (36%), Emmaus (31%), Mayflower (28%), Kemet (28%), Alhurr (25%), Tian Longshan (25%) and Lahar (25%)—all within 47 light-years of Sol. Of the other colonies, some were more or less mainstream to begin with. But the utopias and the cultural separatists had often deliberately affected some very odd social and cultural practices. With the very rare exception of utopias that actually succeeded (and those were perhaps most bizarre of all) the colonies all underwent rapid social and cultural change, either in response to technological change or as a mere random walk through the space of cultural possibility. Each utterly isolated on its own planet, the colonies of the colonies drifted [further] apart, and most of them ended up very strange.

Most colonies also embarked on a roller-coaster of political change. Government forms conceived on Earth, if they had not failed already, succumbed to panic, economic collapse, loss of vital technologies, the emergence of new economic power bases, and the succession of generations who did not share the founder’s ideals. There were struggles over wealth and power, especially over the possession of technological relics. As long as they lasted, items such as high-tech communications systems, vehicles, and weapons allowed government to be maintained over wide areas and in advanced forms that would have been impossible with historical technologies. They were, correspondingly, much fought over. And as they wore out, if economic development did not allow them to be replaced, central government declined on low-tech colonies.