What is the one thing you would change about yourself? For some reason wordpress thought that was the question I ought to address today. The answer, for all of us, is simple. Underwear. If you’re going to spend 4 days at a sf Con, T-shirts too, at least, please! As a personal change I would like to also address my habit of procrastination. I’ll get onto that tomorrow!

And there I was going to write about Wolfbane, but it seemed a bit dull after that challenge. Wolfbane was a Pohl and Kornbluth story which explored a couple of ideas which really were extremely daring for the time. The first was the human mind as a widget. A useful, linkable, impersonal piece of de facto hardware, conditioned into being tabula rasa. (the story centers around what happens when a widget… isn’t a tabula rasa)

The second concept was that diet – calories – could affect the mind and how obedient and co-operative the calorie-limited might be. The baseline concept was high calorie societies (or at least leaders) did huge things like carve mountains or build megalithic structures. Low calorie societies had minute little perfect art-works, and concentrated on the development of self, meditation, things like that. When you don’t have spare calories, you don’t have the spare to carve mountains and wage wars etc.

I think it is a bit more complicated… but it does bear thinking about – in repressive societies like North Korea, or in the wonderful vision the WEF has for the human race (except them, of course. They will eat sumptuous meals of every rare delicacy and fly across the world to meet and discuss the need for you to cut back.) starvation of the citizenry is definitely part of the strategy. Besides, who has food to waste on the proles? I suppose there is some truth in the fact that if you have to put every hour and every ounce of effort into survival there is little spare for plotting revolution (as history shows revolutions are as often as not spawned within a dissatisfied middle class and supported by the lower classes – who are unhappy but often lack the knowledge, organizational skills or even the means to rebel.)

This thought was brought about by someone commenting that it would be nice to read a regency romance where instead of waiting for a new lord to come and fix their leaky cottage roofs, the villagers packed up en masse and went to live in Ohio. I thought about this: it was once easier to emigrate… but it has never been easy… or cheap. Even today those attempting to cross into the US or into Europe… are not the very bottom of their society – certainly not in Africa, anyway. They have the means, and, if you like, the calories, to make even thinking further than that next meal possible — there are plenty of people at the level of ‘just survive’ in Africa. Everything is relative. They’re poor in Europe.

Migration – when it comes to space-travel – is it going to be any different? Will it be the ‘poor huddled masses’ – or will it be the slightly better off? The ingenious, the driven who can find no outlet at home? The ones who believe themselves (maybe in reality) persecuted – but actually have some means to do something about it. Okay, there will be exceptions. And maybe some states may drive great swathes of their very poor onto ships, or – a la Australia (or CLOUD-CASTLES) convicts… but the effects on the colonies of the type of people taken – and of their homeworld with them removed – bears a lot of thinking about.

27 thoughts on “Wolfbane

  1. I wonder how often, in a society as class conscious as the Victorian, convicts were simply entrepreneurs running the only businesses they could run.

        1. “True. I forgot that occupational licensing was almost non-existent in Victorian times.”

          So were comprehensive records. O Henry’s “A Retrieved Reformation” would be impossible today.

  2. The first hires who handled the Seismic Crew lifestyle best were the rangy-tangs, the freely thinking folk. Even the Crew Clerks had to me multi-job-thinkers, able to do a Supply Run to town, or don the outdoor clothes and go chaining, or go Rodding, or even drive the Survey Crew’s pickup truck to the other end of the Seismic line, without getting lost. Almost as good were the summer-only hires from the engineering student ranks, with much better analysis skills (I had one who figured out I took 27 seconds to set up my Wild T-16 normally, but took 43 seconds. If I had to set up over a horizontal turning point: he never missed having the Stadia rod UP when I needed it.). My best survey helper one winter was an 18 year old from Tuktoyaktuk, who returned from time-off smelling of smoke. As a Volunteer Fireman should! He had also remarked, when we started the job, that he was lucky that his RCMP-sponsored ‘vacation’ in Yellowknife had ended just in time! I suspect that the Australian transportees were from among that kind of folk.

    The space pioneers are going to need a hefty amount of Capital for equipment. It may well be that the Line Marriage that RAH imagined for one of the choices in the Moon Colony, would become a winning choice. Education will escape the Educrats, due to the winnowing that the frontier’s ruthless enforcement of The Law of Unexpected Consequences.

    At present, here on earth, California’s logistics costs are rising more due to very strange Fuel Legal Requirements, with new rules about truck ages allowed at the Dockside adding thereto. The wildly changing Rules about Covid Treatment, including Canadian doctors muzzled by their Professional Associations, do make me wonder about both the Medical Bureaucracy as well as the Federal Government’s Bureaucracy.

    Parkinson’s Law, the Peter Principle, Murphy’s Law, and the bitterly cynical “you can make it Fool-proof, but you can never make if Damn-Fool-Proof!”, have been seen working out in Real Life.

    Nowadays, folk on fixed incomes are whipsawed among higher fuel prices, higher food prices, and higher communication costs, plus many other Joys of Inflation. Politicians in, and out of office promise solutions _soon_. Those out of office make wilder, higher in the blue sky, promises, but all the promises are in vain, once the Bureaucracies get their Red Tape wrapped around the execution of the promises.

    I am beginning to wonder if The Commonwealth of Nations needs to establish BuSab (The Sabotage Bureau) with the motto “In defence of Red Tape”, to slow down the rising rumble of bad bureaucratic big wheel decisions. Headquartered in India, under the sponsorship of King Charles III, which will get foreigners well confused for starters. Oh yes, and BuSab’s Promotion Policy, requiring you to sabotage your Boss to take over his job, must be established, to create a self trimming effect at work within BeSab. Author: Frank Herbert. The Dosadi Experiment, and Whipping Star are the 2 novels, the short stories are A Matter of Traces, and The Tactful Saboteur.


  3. In the Regency, the death toll of emigration was distinctly high still. Sailing ships were slower. Also you could never be certain you would actually get a ship because they were unreliable.

  4. I have come to wonder just how much of the current world breakdown is driven by people trying to fix everyone else’s perceived problems, rather than dealing with their own?

    1. Anything is easier than thinking you might be wrong about something (or going about something the wrong way), like projecting it on someone/something else and changing your online picture to some distant country’s flag/kitchy slogan to show how much you care because you’re a good person.

  5. Outside of British emigration, things are a little more… basic. For example, with the Scandies, it’s a cliche to observe that the goats left and the sheep stayed. The ones with the gumption to try to escape bad or desperate circumstances were the ones that took the risk. This is still the main driver of a lot of emigration today.

    Yes, you need to be able to afford to leave, but in a “sell everything” mode, an awful lot of people managed (and are managing) to do it.

    1. My late grandfather would have fit in the goat category. He left Denmark somewhat before World War I, and told a farmer he was a carpenter. On the way to the farm he admitted he wasn’t. Said the farmer: “You will be.” Prediction: true.

      Other aspects of his life, goat. Sometimes GOAT. Loved the guy.

    2. Still largely is that way.

      I think I’ve mentioned before that one of my great grandfathers, before he migrated to the US also sailed two handed across the Mediterranean in an open boat so he could apprentice to be a Carpenter.

      The other side of the family came over much earlier, and were the sort that felt that if you could see the smoke from the neighbor’s chimney, you were too close and it was time to move.

      I’m not someone who enjoys travelling. Most of the tourist sites are unbelievably crowded.

      But I do still feel the tug of that wanderlust. Nowhere to go right now, but that’s just now.

    3. True. BUT ‘sell everything’ if what you have got is a mud hut on land that belongs to your chief (can’t be sold), and you survive by scavenging at the dump — everything doesn’t bring much. Might get you to a bigger town in the same country.

      And the question is do genetics (or environment) keep throwing up goats. Or do the children of goats become sheep?

        1. And here I thought loin wrappers were universal…. which is another path not to travel. 😎

  6. I’m going to guess that on space ships you will see, rich, formerly well off but they mortgaged everything and may now even be indentured, and…I wonder about botany bay ships. Space is never going to be INexpensive. It might never pay to ship convicts out. OK last class, retired space navy and space marines settling off planet.

    1. It may be more expensive to keep them. And the expensive part about space may well prove to be ‘getting on and off the planet.’ In space, many of the structural constraints of earth-gravity engineering vanish. Look at the costs of transporting goods by water over time. The bigger and faster ships the cheaper it got.

      1. True. The next question becomes. Do you end up with two societies; earth and everywhere else?

        1. Only at first. Maybe a generation or two. Then isolation and environmental calculations come in.

          Our moon– by proximity to home, lack of atmo, etc– will have another culture from those on Mars, or out at Titan.

  7. Don’t forget that most settlers from England to the north american colonies were indentured servants.

  8. A lot of the early 19th century English were moving to factory towns, which could be good or bad.

    I just saw a YouTube video about the BBC hunting up “lost footage” of Tolkien’s famous interview with the BBC. They had two or three days of material, and a surprising lot of it survived because the director saved his own stuff, and the gofer told the sound man that interviewing this Tolkien guy they’d never heard of would be like interviewing Lewis Carroll (so the sound man did his best), and there was a weird transcription BBC procedure that saved records of more.

    And in the middle of all that, Tom Shippey talked about how a good chunk of the leading scholars of philology, who taught Tolkien, were working class guys from mill towns. And that was part of why some Oxford types scorned Tolkien (although I don’t think it was just a class or religion thing, it did not help).

    But society and opportunity did open up in most places at that time, so not everybody had to escape overseas to get up and out. The millhands did become scholars, even if some did not like it.

  9. If it’s cheap enough, I think you’ll get voluntary, involuntary, and illegal emigration. Stowaways will happen. What you get, long term, will depend on both the founder population, the conditions, and the frequency of contact.

    A colony isolated from the start, will be very different from a colony in regular contact, and under the authority of the originating country.

  10. Harkening back to the calories thing.

    Prisons feed the inmates very fattening calorically high foods and don’t let them work out much. This is to sedate the population (much like what has happened in America itself). They do the same in many institutions, because then “runners” are easier to catch.

    Whereas most diets, encourage reducing the calories, cutting the sweets and doing some moderate exercise, and even fasting for certain periods of the day, thus cutting the caloric intake. It’s also been found that people/animals with lower caloric intake (though not starvation level), tend to live longer and healthier.

    If the people are in cold sleep, that would be an easier way to transport large quantities of people to a new place, cutting the costs dramatically. (and if some don’t wake up, who are they going to sue?) So, then you are mostly looking at tech costs rather than food/life support, sanitation costs. And tech costs go down rapidly over time. You are likely looking at a new class of indentured servant, where you sign a contract for 10-20 years to work for the colony/company/etc, to pay off your transport and berth, and you living wage during that time while you are getting established. Because skilled and unskilled labor will be needed during the building phases. (Unless they have robots in a much higher autonomy state, and even then they will need someone to repair, re-program, etc the robots) And even if they have robots, physical labor will probably still be cheaper.

    Cold sleep would also cut down on stowaways, although you might be able to get identity theft, though, again, less of that with the machines “tuned” for individual people. (If it’s not tuned for you, less likely to survive the process!) Terra Nova and the reboot Lost in Space dealt with some of those issues in the pilot episodes.

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