A View of History from a Science Fiction Perspective


We call the time before the invention of writing pre-historic—history it seems comes from writing.

Writing was first invented around six millennia ago. It appeared in China, India, Egypt and western Asia. People wrote on (in) clay, wax, wooden slats, parchment, papyrus and, eventually, paper and carved in stone. It spread across the civilized world because it was too convenient, important, to not use. Those who could read and write, or commanded those who could, controlled society.

The ability to count, record, plan and allocate allowed (mandated?) the creation of water empires in the valleys of the Nile, Tigris and Euphrates, Indus and Yellow rivers. No longer was a person’s memory and good will a limiting factor in the matter of logistics.

A great deal of our knowledge, or what we believe, of these early civilizations comes from the writings they left behind. However, this knowledge is skewed. It is knowledge dominated by religion, government and the wealthy. Little is really known about the lives of the ordinary people—ninety plus percent of the populations of these societies. And a lot of what we know of the lives of ordinary people is conjecture based on ruins and what was written about them by the upper classes, who seem to quite often despise those who were neither educated nor wealthy—although their societies would have collapsed without the labor of these “lower” classes.

What would our view of these societies be if we had a written record for them as we have for ourselves over the last two centuries?

History Unwritten

Three of history’s seminal figures: Buddha, Socrates and Jesus left no writings behind. What we know of them, or think we know of them, is based on the writings of others. Everything we “know” about these men was filtered at the very start by views, beliefs, biases and experiences of those who wrote the books. We must also take into account what these men hoped to accomplish with their writings.

Assuming that the followers of Buddha, Socrates and Jesus were good people, interested in accuracy, what were their agendas?

Is the Socrates of Plato accurate? Is the Jesus of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John accurate? Did he really exist, at least as the person shown in our current Bible? Remember, there are early books which, for one reason or another, have not been included in the Bible.

Would what we “know” of these men be different if they wrote about themselves and their beliefs? If there were contemporaneous accounts of Jesus and Buddha would they paint a picture of these men different from that portrayed by their followers—written long after their deaths?

History Destroyed

Libraries, and other storehouses of knowledge (and history), have been destroyed by flood, earthquake, fire and war. The Library of Alexandria, housing tens of thousands books, or scrolls, is one such example. Fire from the Roman civil war, from which Caesar emerged as sole ruler of Rome, destroyed parts if not all of it. Aurelian’s taking of the city while suppressing Queen Zenobia of Palmyra may have damaged it. Following the banning of paganism by Theodosius in 391, more damage and destruction. The Muslim conquest in 642 may have been the end.

However much truth there is in these accounts of the Library’s destruction, it no longer exists. What might our view of the ancient world be today if the treasures it housed were available to us?

Science Fiction and Fantasy History

Much of what happens in science-fiction and fantasy occurs in the future. In each of these stories the author has to breath some life into his (or her) world/universe. Asimov’s Foundation Series, Smith’s Lensmen, Herbert’s Dune, Weber’s Honorverse are just a few examples of created worlds whose history is us. It is after our time when these worlds diverge.

If you are interested in alternate history—our history to a certain point and them bam—there is plenty out there. Change one event, use historical trends and characters and see how the world would have turned out. America loses the Revolutionary War, the South defeats the North, aliens invade during World War II. These and many others are out there waiting to be read (and written). They all demand some type of history.

Even if you create your own universe/world from scratch you still have to give it some history to flesh it out. Very few of us can write a story that has no context.

Which brings me to Jack McDevitt. Many of his stories deal with a humanity that has spread to the stars and been there for millennia. His protagonist is Alex Benedict, an antiquarian. As an individual who deals in old and rare artifacts, Alex must deal with history.

Alex Benedict, and his “sidekick,” Chase Kolpath, hunt down various antiques and sell them for large amounts of money, generating a healthy income. There is danger, of course, as they deal in valuables and secrets. There is murder and attempted murder, but there is none of the large-scale violence and wars associated with much of science fiction. These stories are mysteries.

Alex has a copy of Churchhill’s Their Finest Hour and other valuables. Most of what happens involves history that happened after the twenty-first century. In these instances McDevitt must invent the history, the people, the events and the artifacts. But all of this future history must follow logically from our own history or else the reader will lose his ability to suspend his disbelief.

McDevitt’s ability to weave history and today and its trends into a coherent whole along with non-superhuman characters is half the charm of the stories. The other, of course, is a richly detailed future universe with interesting characters faced with a mystery or two and, occasionally, a crisis.

Today as History

In his newest book, Coming Home, Chapter Twenty-Six (Spoiler Alert), McDevitt gives us a glimpse of what Benedict’s universe has of ours and what they make of it.

  • Most poetry has disappeared but Shelly remains,
  • James Thurber’s name remains, but none of his writings,
  • Only six of Shakespeare’s plays are known, among them The Merry Wives of Windsor,
  • Only seven Hollywood films survive, among them Casablanca and Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein,
  • Dracula was apparently a physician,
  • Superman and Batman got their start in the twenty-fourth century.

If this, or something like it is what survives of our society, what will people make of us? How accurate will their perceptions be?

Is this kind of sampling what we have of our ancient world? Is it as accurate?

Did Ramesses defeat the Hittites at Kadesh or was he forced into retreat? Do we just believe Egyptian propaganda or are the claims of Ramesses accurate?

Were the Egyptian pyramids built by thousands of slaves or by thousands of Egyptian farmers during the seasons their land was flooded by the Nile?

Does Plato tell us of the real Socrates or just a Platonic version of him?

What of the stories of Jesus?

Do we believe that Nero and Caligula were monomanically evil because they were or are they victims of bad publicity, books written by political enemies?

 Family History

For most of my forty years of teaching in junior high I taught History. I told my students that it was the most important subject because it was the only one that told them about their family.

Where are we without our families? We are adrift in the world without an anchor. We are orphans among six billion strangers.

History teaches you about your family—the human race. You are related to everyone else whether you realize it or not. Every stranger you meet is a cousin, maybe a cousin a hundred times, or a thousand times removed, but a cousin nonetheless.

Only by realizing this, and acting on it, will we be able secure our future. No new collapse of society, no new Dark Age, no future interpretations of our lives and civilization without sufficient evidence to either praise or damn us.

As Rodgers and Edwards wrote for Sister Sledge: We Are Family. Let us treat each other as family.

History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illumines reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life and brings us tidings of antiquity.
Marcus Tullius Cicero

Sagittarius Dwarf – A Tale of Imperial Earth – Forward

During the first three hundred years of human spaceflight no manned spacecraft left the solar system. Humanity had too many environmental, political, social and economic crises to deal with. Rising temperatures, rising sea levels, overpopulation and finally viral and nuclear terrorism.

At the end of the 21st century an alliance of first world nations decided that they’d had it with the rest of the world. They were going to protect what they had; if others disagreed, too bad. The North American Federation (U.S.A. and Canada), Anzus (Australia and New Zealand), the Western Pacific Alliance (Japan, The Philippines, China and Viet Nam), the Nordic/European Community. These along with South Africa, the Central American Confederation and the South American Brotherhood left the moribund UN and formed a united civil/military command dedicated to bringing peace to a world drowning in its own excesses.

Terrorist states were destroyed using century old warheads from the NAF nuclear arsenal. Nothing was left to chance; two hundred fifty million people were killed in the initial barrage (slightly more than double the number killed by terrorists during the previous half century). The lesson was not learned. Six months later another one hundred fifty million people were killed in the second barrage. Western Asia, and portions of central and northern Africa were turned into sheets of glass.

Technological superiority combined with a will to see things through to a conclusion convinced an exhausted world that it was time to stop.

Populations in the occupied territories were disarmed; technology made it impossible to conceal weapons and explosives from the occupation troops. Civilian populations in other nations were relieved of all military style weapons.

During the next two centuries, runaway global warming was halted. Atmosphorming technology was developed to return Earth’s atmosphere to pre-industrial conditions. New population controls were put in place and enforced, even the wealthy, the nobility and politically connected were forced to toe the line. By the beginning of the 24th century global population was again below six billion people.

In 2319 Rivka Helen Nguyen met Howard Jon Ridgebeck at Northern Missouri Tech. She was a theoretical physicist interested in gravity. He was a pioneering mathematician in inter-dimensional field theory. Together they developed a new mathematics which allowed quantum physics and Einsteinian physics to be combined into a long sought unified field theory.

Shortly after being awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics (2337) they published their Dark Theory. Dark Theory “proved” the existence of other dimensional spaces within our universe. Thirty years later Jennifer and René Alvarado y Marquez mathematically demonstrated how to gain entry to these other dimensional spaces.

In 2393, working with McKensie-Boeing Astro-Engineering, Jennifer and René developed the first “spatial transition engine.” Along with three dedicated fusion plants it was installed in a small hollowed out nickel-iron asteroid, which had been placed in a geo-sync Martian orbit sixty years before.

It would remain in operation for fifteen seconds following activation. The engine was activated; the asteroid disappeared for fifteen seconds. It reappeared almost where it had been when it was activated. Taking into account the asteroid’s orbit, planetary and solar motion the asteroid had returned to the exact spot it had been in when activated. The existence of other spatial dimensions had been proven – now it remained to prove them practical.

Over the next one hundred fifty years technology was developed to reach a dimensional space which could be used for both transportation and communication that would be the equivalent to Faster-Than-Light in our dimensional space.

In 2570 Tyler Kiritopolis and Myra Ho Chin piloted the Zheng He to the outer limits of the Oort Cloud, some 55,000 AU from the Sun. The trip lasted some twenty-four hours. They had hit their target destination with an error of less than five percent.

After computing their course home to the north of the ecliptic, they again activated the Alvarado Drive and returned to the solar system with a less than two percent error.

By the time the next test flight was ready in 2571, the Bosch/Teledyne Interspatial Communicator was ready and installed. The Zheng He went half the distance to Alpha Centauri in forty-six hours and assorted minutes and seconds. The BTIC worked. Nigh on instantaneous communication halfway to our nearest stellar neighbor.

For better or worse humanity was now loose among the stars.

– – – – –

She found him again looking up into the sky. Again. How many times had she admonished him not to do so? Eights and eights and eights of times, she had lost count long ago. He was going blind and still he kept on.

“Arrcheron, please, do not look so at Light and Heat. It is damaging your sight, you are going blind,” said Alliata.

“Daughter, I know, and, yet, I must continue. There is something about Light and Heat that is not right and I must see it,” the old man replied for the eight of eights time.

“Father, you began claiming this more than a hand of years ago. You cannot explain what you see to others and your eyesight grows weaker each time you look. Perhaps you are wrong or, perhaps, as na’ Sanah says you only see it with your inner eye. In either case, staring at Light and Heat with your eyes open will not help; it will only make you blind.

“Please, father, do as she asks. Go into the caves and open your eye to Light and Heat. It cannot hurt and may hold the answer to the question you are asking. It may be an answer we all need to hear.”

Arrcheron had held this discussion with his daughter eights of times but this time her argument, even though word for word the same as the last time, seemed reasonable. “It is a journey of four hands of days to the Caves of sa’ Dura, daughter. Will you accompany me?”

“I and my two older sons will accompany you father. My husband and our younger children will remain here. na’ Sanah, a younger priestess and two novitiates will also accompany us.”

“na’ Sanah?”

“Yes, na’ Sanah, she said that this time you would listen to me and that both of us must listen to you when you emerge from the cave. And, father, she both looked and sounded sad and worried when she told me this.”

Arrcheron counted eight eights of eight steps a hand of times on his journey into the depths of sa’ Dura. It was cold, damp and dark as the acolyte turned about with his lamp. He would return for Arrcheron in a hand of hours if not summoned earlier by the corded bell.

Arrcheron had never been in a place so dark. He could see neither his white robe nor the hand in front of his eyes; he knew it was there because he touched both his forehead and his nose to prove it. The acolyte’s footsteps died away and the only sounds were slowly dripping water somewhere far back in the cavern and his own breathing.

Well, I’m here, he thought, best get to it.

Seated as he was Arrcheron closed his eyes and imagined he was looking at Light and Heat from his garden bench. And as he did so his inner eye opened and he saw the star. It was not the healthy yellow-white color one usually saw while gazing at the sky. It was a sickly and pulsating greenish-yellow.

As he watched he imagined ages passing and, as they passed, people began to flee from Home. Light and Heat shrank and then grew infinitely larger, brighter and hotter. When the image in his mind cleared, he again saw Home. But a Home burned beyond recognition, a black cinder orbiting a star, dark and dead, giving light and heat no more.

Alone, shivering and, now, terrified, Arrcheron pulled the cord at his side that would summon the acolyte into the depths of sa’ Dura, but he could already see a flickering light in the cavern. “Master, it has been a hand of hours since I left you and was just about to enter when I heard you pull the belled cord just now. I see you have not touched the food or water I left with you. Would you like some before we begin our return to the surface?”

“No,” replied a shaken and still shaking Arrcheron, “I have seen not enough and yet I have seen too much.”

– – – – –

The Priestess was ancient, more than two eights of eight years had she seen. Her body was failing but her mind and will were still strong; she and those attending her could see that, but, still she lived. Why? What was the reason; was there a reason? She did not fear the long night coming; it could only offer surcease from the aches in her muscles and bones.

She had loved and been loved; indeed, she had several great-great-grandchildren. She had accomplished much; indeed, she had served as Priestess longer than most led adult lives. But still she went on.

Her nights were growing longer. Her dreams were beginning to last from one night into another, but she could not recall them after she awakened. And what was the purpose of a dream one could not recall?

The first storm of late autumn had blown through that afternoon and Safur ‘na Dahl had felt every clap of thunder in her bones. A glass of summer wine eased her into sleep, but it was a sleep unlike any she had experienced.

She began to float. Her sheets and blanket did not impede her and neither did the walls and ceiling of her bedroom. Soon she floated above the city and in a little while she saw the curve of the world. As she moved toward the sunrise she could see Light and Heat, but a Light and Heat unlike she’d ever seen before. It was a sickly and pulsating green and, while she watched in horrified fascination, her people fled from its sight.

She soon passed into space past the orbit of Moon and into the space between stars. She saw a small rocky world but it had no surface water. Later another world with air and water but it too seemed not right. The dream continued and Safur floated on and on and suddenly there they were. Four planets each circling its own small yellow star almost within reach of each other. The first would be New Home, a place of refuge and the others would be settled by the children of New Home. Never again would the Children of Light and Heat be in the danger they faced today.

Safur na’ Dahl woke from her dream exhausted and dehydrated. She had been asleep for a hand of eights days. Brushing aside the concerns of her attendants, who thought she would never again awake, Safur demanded to be taken outside. In her garden she pointed to the northeast toward a line of stars at the edge of a void. “That is where we must go,” she said, “That is where we shall find refuge from the storm of heat and light that will destroy our Home. That is where we fill find and build New Home.”

Exhausted, Safur collapsed and was carried in to her bed. She slept and her breathing slowed. At the end a smile creased her lips and she slipped into that long night satisfied with the refuge shown and a life well-lived.