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  1. Threadmarks: Malêverse 2100: The Garden at the Top of the World

    Jonathan Edelstein Rooted Cosmopolitan

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2009
    Location:
    Kew Gardens, NY
    upload_2019-5-6_13-58-22.png

    The village was on the north side of the canal: thirty adobe houses with patterned tile roofs, storage sheds and barns, low stone walls marking off the alpacas’ enclosure, gardens planted around stands of alder trees. At first glance it appeared timeless. A traveler from two hundred years in the past might have been startled by the canal and the alder groves, but would otherwise have recognized it as one of a thousand poor altiplano settlements.

    Carmen Yarhui, who’d grown up in a village like this, knew it wasn’t. She knew well that the plumbing and electrical fixtures inside the walls were as modern as any in El Alto or La Paz, that the furnishings and household goods came from the four corners of the world, that the livestock and crops were the product of a hundred and thirty years of genetic modification. The alpacas’ wool was as soft and warm as qiviut and had brought wealth to villages like this one, and the harvest yields were three and four times what the time traveler would have expected.

    The two people waiting outside the gathering hall were proof of that if anything was. Carmen had met them both before: Nayra Sánchez, the headwoman of the ayllu that managed this village, and Inti Aguado, the mallku of the next settlement north. They were both prosperous-looking, and Nayra was decidedly non-traditional; her jeans and Aran sweater contrasted with Inti’s pegged trousers and vicuña scarf. More to the point, both of them were surrounded by images from the datacloths tied at their waists, comparing crop prices and discussing new quinoa mods while they waited for Carmen to arrive and start the main event.

    “Come in with us,” Nayra said when Carmen got out of the fi. She didn’t waste time with preliminaries; those would take place in the community hall where both ayllus were assembled. It would be she and Inti who would agree – or disagree – with whatever mediation Carmen offered, but proceedings like this were done in everyone’s sight.

    The hall was a few steps away, and most of adults from both villages were indeed inside. They left off their conversations at Carmen’s entrance and kept a respectful silence as their two mallkus crossed to a pitcher of chicha at the far side of the room. Nayra and Inti raised the pitcher together and poured three libations – one to Pachamama, one to the huacas of the two ayllus, and one to Jesus Christ – and passed the rest around; only when all had partaken did they activate the large datacloth on the floor.

    The dispute was easily explained. “The forest by the Challpa reservoir has doubled in the last ten years,” Nayra began, and the datacloth became a map that showed the old and new forest boundaries. That was no surprise; the treeline had risen seven hundred meters in the past century, and pioneering trees moved closer to it every year. “Our herds grazed there…”

    “And now they graze here,” Inti said, pointing to a stretch of pastureland north of the traditional boundary. “They’re mixing with our herds, pushing them north, and they’re interfering with the vicuñas’ route to the watering hole.”

    “We’ve offered compensation…” Nayra began, but Carmen held up a hand; in the five years she’d worked for the Audiencia del Altiplano, she’d seen many disputes like this one. She asked a few more questions, plotted the answers on the map, clarified some points, drew a line of her own.

    “Let’s try it this way,” she said. “Both ayllus will have joint rights to the forest – say, seventy percent for this village and thirty for yours.” Inti and Nayra both nodded, although Carmen could see that they would quarrel over the percentages; the alders that were populating the altiplano had been engineered to have oil-bearing seeds and every village had equipment for distilling salicin from the bark, so forestry rights were something of value. “This land” – she drew another circle – “will be available to both for grazing, with the ayllus jointly responsible for maintaining the canals. We’ll leave a migration path for the vicuñas here, and you’ll share the shearing rights – let’s say seventy-thirty the other way.”

    Carmen was right – the two mallkus did argue percentages, and Inti wanted the joint pastureland increased to compensate for the expanded wetlands that left less room for his village’s herds. Every concession came with a price and the bargaining was sharp, but it was clear from the outset that both villages accepted the general framework; indeed, Carmen got the strong feeling that her solution was much like what they’d have come up with themselves.

    This isn’t their first mediation either, she recognized, and I’m sure they had a good idea what I’d bring to the table. Still, she knew that her part was important. If the solution came from her – if it were a judicial order – it would have the force of customary law, and even more importantly, neither ayllu could gloat about getting the better of the other. They both had to live together, and the resentments caused by bad bargains could last generations.

    This way, if it goes wrong, they can blame me. But for the moment, it seemed that both sides were satisfied; after a few more rounds of discussion regarding water rights and future forest management, the agreement was sealed, and the datacloth registered the successful mediation with the database in El Alto. The maintenance machines and agricultural credit balances would start reflecting the deal immediately.

    The ayllus adjourned to the feast that had been prepared outside – another sign that they’d anticipated that the mediation would succeed – and Nayra carved a portion of vat-lamb for Carmen to go with the chicha and the spiced quinoa mush that they'd made into a couscous with imported vegetables. From the number of chicha barrels that had been brought out, Carmen guessed the celebration would last the rest of the day. They let her excuse herself after twenty minutes, but she was still glad the fi drove itself.

    #​

    It was a short ride to Municipal Airstrip One, where a nine-seater plane was waiting to take her on the next stage of her journey. The pilot climbed steeply and banked north at six thousand meters; the day was clear and the altiplano was laid out below them.

    Carmen would never get tired of this view. She liked seeing everything at once, everything together; the villages and towns, the migrating herds, the expanding forests, the lakes and marshes teeming with bird life, the high plains crisscrossed with thousands of canals and reservoirs that joined with the natural river systems. The view was also a reminder of why the canals were necessary. The snow line, like the tree line, was hundreds of meters higher than it had once been, and the glaciers were noticeably smaller than they’d been even when Carmen was a child, let alone a century ago. The altiplano had warmed more than the lowlands and rainfall had increased, but without the glaciers to regulate the rate at which water was released, its people had to use artificial means to prevent erosion and protect the wetlands. A hundred years ago, the ayllus had begun reviving the pre-Inca system of canals and catchments; since then, they had expanded many times over and were the lifeblood of the lagoons and terraced farms.

    It was all part of the Audiencia’s remit now, and had been for the past sixty years – the Consistory, the Andean Community, the Bolivian and Peruvian governments, and the council of ayllus all had a hand in it. The wetlands had recovered, the growing alder forests added nitrogen to the soil, and these days, the altiplano could almost be called lush in places, but it was a lushness that had to be maintained. The highlands now were a carefully tended garden.

    The thought carried Carmen all the way to a bumpy landing at the Puno provincial airfield and the ride through town to the Inca Uyo site. The waters of Lake Titicaca were lapping at the town; some of the streets nearest to the docks had already been sealed and converted to canals, and more were in the process. Temperatures had been stable for forty years but the increase in rainfall was permanent, and the port towns were either relocating or adapting.

    Others were making the same choice, which explained why Carmen was here this afternoon.

    “You can see the retaining walls,” said Marco Chávez, the superintendent of the Inca Uyo archaeological preserve. Carmen had a moment’s difficulty following his words; on the Peruvian side, people spoke traditional southern Quechua rather than the Quechumara creole that was common in highland Bolivia. “It’s not going to be enough. The soil underneath is being undermined, and unless we can raise the site, we’ll have to move it or else leave it behind.”

    Carmen nodded. This too was far from a unique problem. More than one archaeological site on Lake Titicaca’s shores was now an artificially-elevated island, and more than one had been moved inland. Inca Uyo was a small site, a low wall surrounding a field of mushroom-shaped standing stones, but the ground it was on would be difficult to raise, and doing so might damage the more fragile structures, not to mention whatever was still underground. Moving the site inland one stone at a time would be safer and would allow time for exploration of the foundations, but the budgeting and approval process would have to start soon…

    “What do the people here prefer?” she asked when she was done with her inspection.

    “They’re of two minds. Some of them are all for moving it. Others don’t want it disturbed – they’d rather let the lake take it over than relocate it.”

    That wasn’t unique either; in fact, it wasn’t even new. Titicaca’s water level had changed before, and there were prehistoric sites that had been underwater for centuries. People had found ways of studying them, and no doubt, people would still come to Inca Uyo even if the lake drowned it. But…

    “And there’s another thing,” Marco continued. “The people who don’t want the site moved – most of them are with the tavarista party.”

    Ah, thought Carmen, it will be political. But at the end of the day, everything was. Marco had been right to bring her here now; there would have to be a referendum before the Audiencia could ratify a site plan and appropriate a budget, and that meant there was even less time to get things started.

    “Are they around – can I meet with them today?” she asked.

    Marco nodded and motioned toward a back street. “They’ll be at the coffeehouse this time of day – nobody goes back to work until three. The Audiencia is buying the coffee, I assume?”

    “Of course.” No doubt both factions would be sharing the early-afternoon break, and Carmen could take their temperature before making recommendations to the Audiencia about the alternative plans to be put forward, which local boards would be involved in planning, and how many surrounding districts would participate in the voting. No one would mind if she bought a few rounds of coffee in exchange for that; the cost wouldn’t even be a rounding error by the time all was said and done.

    #​

    All roads on the altiplano led to El Alto sooner or later, and Carmen’s plane made its approach to the airport at seven o’clock. Darkness was gathering and the city was alight from the airfield all the way to the cliffs that led down to the Choqueyapu valley and La Paz.

    Carmen had lived in El Alto for a decade, since her first year at the university, and still didn’t feel entirely at home there. The city was on the altiplano but not completely of it. The houses and public buildings might be painted in bright Aymara colors with windows and brickwork in patterns that suggested birds or ancient gods; the neighborhoods might be arranged around communal gardens; but it was a city of a million, not an ayllu or even a collection of them. It was the capital of the altiplano region and the home of the Audiencia’s offices, but it had the impersonality of a large town. No one met Carmen at the airport, no one guided her through the swirling hurried crowds, and she rode the rest of the way to her office alone.

    She didn’t plan to stay long. She made a few entries in the database to update her reports, and looked to see if any matters had been called to her attention for the following day. Finding none, she called up a schematic of the region to see if any problems had reported themselves.

    The map that glowed above her desk datacloth was the counterpart of the view from the plane; it showed the pipes and drains, the salinity and erosion monitors, the maintenance devices that kept the land the way it was. These were the unseen gardeners laid down over the course of six decades, and there were more of them every year – Carmen had placed some of them herself.

    It looked like she might have to recommend some more. There were drainage problems west of Oruro, which were minor now but would do damage if they weren’t controlled. There were also a couple of alarms above the snowline where the water catchments had become insufficient. Carmen noted them, routed a report to the construction department, and sent another to budgeting.

    That finished her work, and she realized that she was hungry and that she ought to find some dinner at her neighborhood cookhouse, but another part of her wasn’t quite ready to end the day. She dimmed the lights in the office and looked deep into the schematic, letting her eyes follow the patterns in the map. If she looked long enough, she’d learned, she would forget what those patterns represented, and they would become a work of art, a beauty of the garden that could only be seen this way.

    At school in the village and later at the university, Carmen had learned of the other gardens, all the regions where the ecosystem had become a project of generations. She wondered if anyone right now might be looking at their region the same way she was at hers, tracing the garden paths that lay unseen below the earth. She realized she would never know, but the thought was somehow comforting.

    It was time to go home, but she would stay in her garden a few minutes more.
     
    Last edited: May 13, 2019
  2. aura Member

    Joined:
    Jun 28, 2013
    Understand that the lack of comments is merely the result of awestruck admiration. This, as with the rest of the thread is great. I am not exaggarating when I say that this thread is perhaps my favorite work of fiction, bar none.
     
  3. John Spangler A man of wealth and taste

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    Nov 14, 2013
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    Somewhere in Southern Italy
    This chapter reminded me how fascinating a South America setting can be. Kudos for your descriptive skills, Jonathan!
     
  4. Jonathan Edelstein Rooted Cosmopolitan

    Joined:
    Oct 25, 2009
    Location:
    Kew Gardens, NY
    In post 7203, I mentioned Moon and Mars colonies as well as asteroid mining (the last done mainly via robotics); there's also a fair amount of construction capacity in LEO and a space elevator either being built or in the advanced planning stage. There has been a lot of unmanned exploration of the outer system but given Hohmann transfer times, no one has gone there just yet. An unmanned interstellar probe has been discussed but the logistics remain daunting; OTOH, space telescope capacity has been vastly increased, and we know a lot more about the universe than we could imagine knowing today.

    If this seems like a conservative prediction for 2100, BTW, it is; I tend to think that we've just about exhausted the steep part of the S-curve and that physical limits will make advances a lot slower going forward. Also, one of the things we've been discovering lately is that the physiological challenges of long-term space travel to the human body are greater than we thought. Your mileage as to both matters may vary.

    I'll take this up further in some of the forthcoming Malêverse 2100 posts, and when I'm finished with the 2100 series, I'm planning a final story set in 2200 that will look outward toward the universe.

    Thank you. Naipaul himself is unlikely to exist ITTL; he was born more than 90 years after the POD and his family might not have even immigrated to Trinidad, so his closest ATL-cousins might be in India or in another part of the former British Empire such as Guyana or Fiji. (Naipaul as an Indo-Fijian writer would be kind of fascinating.)

    OTOH, there are almost certainly figures like him in TTL's Trinidad - there are certainly Indo-Trinidadian literary families, and no doubt they've produced their share of difficult geniuses. I could hope that TTL's closest analogue of Naipaul wouldn't have as much of an inferiority/superiority complex vis-a-vis the cultures with which he interacts - maybe if his father (and by extension he) were influenced by the protest movements and political alliances of TTLs 1910s and 1920s, his view of such matters might be more sanguine. And given the elements of his father's life in Mr. Biswas, I'd expect that the subject matter of his seminal works would be very contingent on his and his parents' background; if his father was a Capildeo by marriage as Naipaul's was or married into another prominent family, it's possible that he might write something quite similar.

    Thank you! In case it sparks any more discussion, I'll mention that one thing I wanted to illustrate with this story (aside from rich 22nd-century Bolivia) is that by 2100, environmental management is both the most important and the most characteristic function of government. If someone in the Malêverse eighty years hence were asked "what is government for," the most likely answer would be "to keep the planet going," just as a medieval person might answer "roads and ports" or a mid-20th century person "social welfare" or alternatively "national security."
     
    Last edited: May 7, 2019
  5. aura Member

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    Jun 28, 2013
    Well, to be fair, the role of the government, and its success, being judged off handling the environment has been an idea, especially in China, from the very start.
     
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  6. Bulldoggus Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion

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    Fordham (In Tha Brawnks) via Boston
    But those are all the best pats of his writing!!!
     
  7. 245 Well-Known Member

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    Mar 7, 2015
    so whats streaming like in this timeline? and is otl better or worse then the male timeline?
     
  8. Jonathan Edelstein Rooted Cosmopolitan

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    Fair point. There's always been some element of environmental management, especially in river valley civilizations where irrigation and flood control are critical to survival - this wasn't only the case in China but in Egypt and Mesopotamia as well. An environmental function in government wouldn't even be unprecedented in the Andes, given how regulated and planned Inca agriculture was and how much energy was spent on terracing and erosion control.

    The difference in the late 21st century is considering environmental management the primary function of government, which in turn lies in recognizing that ecosystems are integrated wholes that need to be maintained on a planetary scale and that the consequences of not doing so in an advanced technological society are catastrophic. As you can probably tell from this series of posts, the Malêverse got a handle on climate change by the mid-century, but there was still enough change to leave many environmentally fragile regions requiring permanent maintenance.

    There's nothing to stop his ATL analogue from being as difficult, or even more so, in other fields.

    I'd imagine that streaming, by whatever name it's called ITTL, would be much like OTL. Once something like the internet exists, real-time digital transmission of video, music, etc. would seem to be an inevitable development. The difference would be in what gets streamed, and TTL's music and cinema have been mentioned here and there throughout the thread. Maybe the business model would be different as well depending on the international copyright regime and how access to the internet is distributed, but that's not something I really know enough about to speculate on how it might be different (others' thoughts are welcome as always).

    Better or worse is in the eye of the beholder - some people from OTL might think the Malêverse is a better place and others not, depending on their outlook.
     
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  9. 245 Well-Known Member

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    Mar 7, 2015
    so how much has animation has changed in 2100? also, I don't think you did an update on this world equivalent of western and eastern animation?
     
  10. AmericaninBeijing Not Particularly Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    May 19, 2016

    The notion that people are using geoengineering to improve upon the biodiversity and resiliency of global ecosystems rather than just to excuse their continued over-consumption is a pleasant one. I’m sure the initiative didn’t start that way, but that’s what it’s become.
     
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  11. Al-numbers Well-Known Member

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    Incredible! Environmentally-focused geoenginnering that's actually taken as a serious effort by world governments is something we could kinda use (or at least plan) today.

    On another note, I now have new ideas regarding my own timeline...
     
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  12. Jonathan Edelstein Rooted Cosmopolitan

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    Kew Gardens, NY
    You're correct - I never did an update focused on animation and I doubt I ever will, because that's another subject I don't know a lot about. I do, however, have two general thoughts:

    1. By 2100, computer-aided animation techniques will be far in advance of what exists today, to the point where it might be possible to make a three-dimensional animated film that's indistinguishable from a movie. But if you're going to make a movie, why not just make a movie? Maybe the hyper-realistic computer animation would be reserved for fantasy - which, after all, can't be shot on location - with a turn to more abstract and surreal portrayals in other settings where computers would be used to enhance reality rather than depict it. There might be a dynamic similar to what happened with painting once photography became a superior representational form.

    2. I've mentioned that there are several countries in the Malêverse that were in a position roughly equivalent to OTL Japan during the twentieth century - i.e., not colonized and strong enough to choose from and adapt Western culture on their own terms. Thus, there would be many regional styles of animation with aesthetics derived from those regions' pre-existing means of portraying the human form - for instance, Indian animation influenced by Mughal painting or an epic of Menelik II's reign with panels that look like this. Hell, the aesthetics don't even need to be come from painting or drawing - it's possible to imagine a West African style of animation that uses the lines of hardwood sculpture. And of course the subject matter of these styles would be drawn from both the classic regional canon and those cultures' modern literature. There are very few limits.

    As I've said before, anyone who's more of an animation fan than I am (a very low bar) is welcome to contribute ideas if this is part of the Malêverse you'd like to develop - just run the ideas by me first.

    It started out as shoring up ecosystems that were in danger of breaking and preserving their human carrying capacity, but by the mid-21st century, there was a definite shift toward strengthening and improving the ecosystems' adaptability. This coincided with the development of formal geoengineering ethical codes.

    The coordinated geoengineering is a product of the Malêverse's more developed internationalism - with the Consistory already existing as talking shop and facilitator, it was easy enough to establish an Environmental Section as a clearinghouse for the efforts being made by national and regional governments, and then for the Environmental Section to become the main sponsor in its own right. This isn't an entirely benign development, BTW - as mentioned, up to 10 percent of the world's GDP is channeled through the Environmental Section by 2100, and some of the things it does look a lot like governing. A lot of checks, balances and guarantees of public participation have been built into the system, and as mentioned above it's subject to strict ethical codes, but not everyone is happy about the amount of power that has accrued to the ES over a century of mission creep.

    BTW, like many of the 2100 updates, this story was partly inspired by events in OTL: people in the altiplano really are beginning to revive pre-Inca canal systems. And if you're curious about what avant-garde Andean architecture looks like, this might help.
     
    Last edited: May 8, 2019
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  13. Al-numbers Well-Known Member

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    I've actually heard of those! Though I'm personally not a follower of their color styles, it's really interesting to see how the local Aymara see architecture and living spaces, especially with the mansions being simultaneous places of business, celebrations, and family homes. I guess the Aymara also have more fluid notions of communalism vs. individual space ITTL, and especially so by 2100.
     
  14. Expat Monthly Donor

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    Washington, DC
    Still the most amazing vision on the board, and some of my favorite reading material. I could dive into the Malêverse any time.

    This is ridiculous, but for some reason my first thought when reading about bioengineering in the Altiplano was, "I wonder if they've taken care of the poop problem on Everest yet." I'm guessing either a bacteria or perhaps drones that can handle the wind shear have done yeoman's work on this. Also just for comparison, do you think the number of people allowed to climb would be higher/lower/similar to OTL? Access to climbing Everest is an example of an extremely limited (but renewable) resource that requires managers to take a lot of factors into account, and complicated management is this universe's bread and butter!

    Excited to hear a space elevator is going in. Nairobi is a site I've often heard mentioned, as it's got good elevation and lies near the equator. With a major space port already fairly close at hand, that seems like a winner. The other one is Quito, right on the equator and very high up. My understanding (from reading Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy) is that an elevator will enhance the utility of asteroid mining. Even if it's just to put something in empty downward-bound cars. (With supplies and people going up and mostly just people coming down, there's always more room on the return journey and you might as well get something for your effort, like any shipping company of the last 500 years will tell you.)

    Curious about large-scale rewilding projects. Any word on big migration corridors being set up in southern Africa? We've got evidence that space is opening up again. What about the Buffalo Commons? That website already half sounds like it's from TTL.

    Really love the way time has become a significant factor in employment, what a beautiful change over OTL. I'm sure many, probably even a majority of people, still look at what they're getting paid for their time. But the fact that pay isn't the overwhelming considering is just inspiring to see. And a 30-hour "full-time" consideration, workers of the world rejoice!

    Thanks again for writing!
     
  15. Al-numbers Well-Known Member

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    I have updated the installments page to include the Bolivia narrative, though I've decided to be vague on exactly where it's set. The story gives a feeling of "place" in a sort of... general place, instead of a specific one. The scale of geoengineering across the country, even if they are nothing more than local projects connected together, gives the tale a hint of... not mattering exactly where Carmen Yarhui has traveled.

    I dunno. I may be seeing things that aren't there, but it's a sort of thinking that brushed me.
     
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  16. Jonathan Edelstein Rooted Cosmopolitan

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    That style isn't my favorite either - my architectural tastes are a lot more subdued (although OTOH, would I rather have a city of cholets than one full of mid-20th century brutalist monstrosities? Hell yeah). And the existence of a blurred dividing line between communal and individual space is far from unique to the Aymara - arguably, it's the extreme Western insistence on boundaries that's the outlier. There might be more exploration of this in the next 2100 update.

    Thank you! You're right that the specific location of the story isn't important (that's why I didn't name the village where the first scene took place) and that the idea was to show the scope of geoengineering in the altiplano as a whole. What does make a difference is that the story took place on the altiplano rather than one of Bolivia's other life zones - Bolivia is one of the most (if not the most) vertical countries on the planet, and the highlands are a world away from the Amazon basin, the Chaco or even the intermediate Yungas cloud forest.

    BTW, in the interest of completeness, would you want to add Caretakers as installment 351a? You did put the other private-forum story on the list.

    I can honestly say that this is a problem I've never thought about. I'd guess that the solution ITTL would be something along the lines of the biogas converter that is being tried IOTL, possibly with some engineering of the bacteria to survive in colder climates. Drones seem expensive and wasteful compared to measures that would deal with the waste in situ.

    Also, since you mention access control, that might be part of the solution as well - maybe a point system for prospective climbers in which the expedition's waste-management plan, and environmental impact in general, are among the things scored. I'd imagine that Everest would have Legatum Humanitatis status, so both the Consistory and the local community - and maybe representatives of expedition outfitters - would participate in setting and enforcing the standards.

    I'm not sure Nairobi would exist in the Malêverse - IOTL, it was founded as a colonial railroad hub, and given the different patterns of colonialism ITTL (especially the fact that *Kenya wasn't a settler colony), there's no guarantee that a city would be built in the same place. There would probably be some transportation hub in the area, but with the existing Kismayo launch facility already so close to the equator, why not just build the elevator there?

    Quito is certainly another possibility, as are Libreville and Pontianak - and maybe even Belém, which isn't right on the equator but is about as close as Nairobi IOTL. There might be several elevators, depending on how much demand there is for orbital infrastructure (and for launch platforms - the centrifugal force at the far end of a 53,000-km cable is enough to get a spacecraft to escape velocity).

    There was some mention of that in this update - the combination of declining populations, increasing urbanization, and more systematic protection of endangered species has reopened a lot of land to wildlife. The wealth of Africa ITTL also helps - there's less pressure on marginal lands and less resistance to reserving corridors that are key to threatened species' survival.

    That is in large part a function of widespread UBI - if everyone is guaranteed enough that their basic survival needs aren't at issue, then higher-level needs will play more part in choosing a job. As you say, humans are human, so a lot of people will still look for the job that lets them buy the most toys and have the most status symbols, but enough people won't do so that time will be as prominent in job listings as money. I'd guess that this is also one of the effects of an aging society - with more seniors in the workforce, there will be more people looking for jobs that take less of a physical toll.

    Next 2100 update in a day or two.
     
  17. xsampa Well-Known Member

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    Mar 23, 2014
    This is the most plausible African superpower scenario I have come across.
     
  18. Al-numbers Well-Known Member

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  19. Threadmarks: Malêverse 2100: What Hides Below the Clouds (Part 1 of 2)

    Jonathan Edelstein Rooted Cosmopolitan

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    [​IMG]

    The fast ferry took me from Auki to Morobe Harbor, and there was a train that went as far as Mount Hagen. I had to take a cargo airship the rest of the way, and looking down from the passenger cabin, I could see why.

    The earth here looked like it had been folded – plunging valleys and knife-edge mountains, fast streams and jungles that it didn’t make sense to build roads through even now. Sometimes I could see old airstrips that the forest hadn't entirely reclaimed, but no one could build enough airfields for every tribe that needed one, and they weren't much use for cargo service. Better to use the airships – all they needed was a mooring post, and no one here was in a hurry.

    I'd been told the trip would take eight hours, but it was longer than that – there was an unscheduled stop to deliver a shipment of seed editors and another for a medical airlift. While they were hooking the stretcher up to the hoist and getting the medical compartment ready, I climbed out onto the top of the cabin and looked over the village. And what a village it was. The highlanders didn’t hide their modern amenities behind traditional designs like we did at home. They built fantasias – houses with white roofs twisted like leaves, wooden false walls behind glass, designs that looked like growing things and were as elaborate as their mining and bioprospecting royalties would allow. Every village I’d passed was like that – each outdoing the other, and each somehow fitting with its carved ancestral poles and thatched meetinghouse.

    I wondered, as the airship lifted off again, what the city would be like – a fantasy of fantasies? A part of the landscape as natural as the forests and mountains? It was all those things, but I didn’t expect it to be a fortress.

    It was near dusk when the airship landed, and the city wall glowed red – a wall built for defense, even though the city was less than a hundred and fifty years old. Much of the city was now outside it – there were far more people living here now than the wall could hold, and houses and gardens had grown around it like vines – but the gate was still guarded, and the shields that the highland tribes had donated to Akmat Ipatas as tribute still hung below its battlements.

    Bandar Damai, the city was called – city of peace, in the Malay creole that was the highland traders' tongue – but evidently peace was something it had had to fight for.

    The thought carried me from the mooring field to the queue at the gate and to the guard, face spotted with white paint, who took my documents. "Your name?" he asked.

    "Tautai," I answered, although my passport would have told him just as quickly.

    "Last name?"

    "I only have the one." The biggest town on Malaita had ten thousand people, and we'd never needed family names to tell each other apart.

    "But here you need two," the guard said. "We'd lose you else. Do what the tribesmen do when they come in – just pick one. You can put it down again when you leave."

    I struggled to follow his words – the creole was mostly Malay, but it had some German, a hint of Dutch, and borrowings from the trading peoples of the highlands. I could speak German and Malay, but both at once were another story, and the other parts of the language were entirely foreign. Still, his meaning was clear.

    "Tautai… Tuan," I said.

    The guard laughed, a laugh that came from somewhere between the belly and the heart. "You've got big plans for yourself, have you?"

    "I hope so."

    "Big plans," he said again. "Very well, Lord Tautai – whatever you're looking for in Bandar Damai, I hope you find it."

    #​

    I needed to find a room, but the city found me first and I had no choice but to surrender. The neighborhood immediately inside the wall – cream-colored houses with smooth curves and the sheen of ceramic – gave way to the center city and the panoply of humanity.

    I was far from the only foreigner – Bandar Damai drew seekers like a magnet, whether from the next valley or the other side of the world. Many were young, stopping for a while during their Wanderjahre. Others were looking for designer drugs or – not always unrelatedly – spiritual experiences that could be found only here. There were wildcat miners in from the mountainsides, apprentice bioprospectors, musicians looking for influences – and those who dreamed of making a killing at the one bioexchange that the Consistory didn't manage. A few wanted to test the very bounds of being human.

    I was a seeker myself, come to that, though I still wasn’t sure quite how far I wanted to go.

    The stream of people seemed to be going somewhere, and I followed it into an octagonal square with a park and reflecting pool at the center, a twenty-meter hardwood mantis standing above the pool, and eight public buildings at its sides. They seemed familiar for a moment in a way I couldn't place, and then I did place it – they were shaped like the village meetinghouses with steep peaked roofs and wooden facings. But they were higher in front than in back, the walls were concrete and the roofs were tile, and while the paintings on the wood panels facing the square were done in traditional style, their subject matter was decidedly modern.

    I circled the square, looking for the building whose facing was painted with a stylized double helix, and suddenly there it was. I stood amid the people coming in and out, even at this hour, and looked up past the panel and the roof to the evening’s first stars. Maybe what was inside would take me there.

    I stood there until the spell broke and went looking for a meal. I didn’t have to look far; in a place just off the square, I found a table by the back wall, a plate of mumu, and a bottle of beer. I didn’t have to look much farther to see that I was one of the only people there with food on his table. Some were drawing on hookahs or sharing a betel nut; others sought more exotic disengagements from the world. I saw a waiter lean down and whisper to one of them, and then take a cheek swab and carry it through the kitchen door.

    I’d heard of this, and when I looked again at the menu, I knew the stories hadn’t been lies. After the list of food and drink was a list of sensations – name what you wanted to feel, and a drug tailored to your DNA would be brought to your table. I motioned to the waiter, but at the last second I hesitated; I wasn’t sure what I wanted to feel right now, so I settled for some flavored kif instead.

    I sat and I smoked and I dreamed. The Starwind Symphony was playing in the background, one of the more otherworldly Bazembe compositions of the last century, but my dreams were more inner than outer space: biological treasures hidden in the forests, microbes to put to use, medicines to be distilled at the touch of a gene. I dreamed of things undiscovered, things that could be my gift to my village, things that could make me Tautai Tuan in truth.

    There were no lords in Malaita, but the guard had misunderstood, or maybe I’d misspoken – what I’d meant to say was “captain.”

    Once, in Hui’ehu’s time and after, Malaita and its federate islands were ruled by their captains – the men, and soon enough the women, who commanded others’ loyalty and respect and were raised to office by their followers’ acclamation. That wasn’t the case any longer – referenda and the council-of-councils now did most of what the captains would have done a hundred years ago – but captains were still respected, and the captains still chose the admiral. And I wanted to be admiral one day.

    Therein was the problem. Before captains were called captains, they were called Big Men, and Big Men showed that they were big by giving things away. But what was there to give away now that everyone was rich? A person couldn’t become a captain now by giving a house or a bride-price or a tractor; no one needed captains for those things anymore, which was why the council-of-councils had taken much of their power. Knowledge could be a gift, but the standard for that was also much higher than it used to be – once, a person could become a captain by going to Australasia and coming home with a degree, but now Malaita had universities of its own, and I was only one of many who had graduated from them. If I were to bring home a gift of learning, it would have to be a treasure.

    I listened and I smoked and I dreamed of treasures here.

    #​

    In the morning I went looking for some. I didn’t go to the bioexchange itself – I couldn’t begin to do the kind of trades that were done there. The people with seats on the exchange were tribal agents, representatives of governments and universities, pharmaceutical and agricultural collectives – people who had billions to spend. My destination was the streets and stalls in back of the exchange, the domain of the brokers and expediters who took the rights that were traded in the big building and broke them down into sub-licenses and shares.

    The one I found was named Kere, a highlander born and raised from the look of her, and now the occupant of a small second-story office three blocks from the square. She smiled much as the guard had when I told her the second name I’d chosen; she didn’t tell me hers.

    “Buying or selling?” she asked after I’d done the credit transfer for an hour of her time.

    “Buying. I hope.”

    “Microbe shares? Sales territory? Experimental license?”

    I shook my head. “Information, if you have it. I want to know what’s being prepared for offering on the exchange – what isn’t being offered yet.”

    She looked suddenly wary. “A poacher?”

    “No, no.”

    “A prospector? You want to go into the country and negotiate with the tribe directly – get a piece of the harvest?”

    “No, not a prospector.” Even for someone like me who had a botany and mycology degree, a bioprospector’s license required five years of education – you had to learn not only what to look for but how to search for it in ways that didn’t harm anything else. “But yes, I want to talk to the customary owners about development rights. An experimental license directly from them, limited to the Malaita Confederacy…”

    Kere held up a hand. “You aren’t the first to have that idea. It’s more expensive than you think, and more dangerous. But let me see.” She made a pass over the datacloth on her table. “My intelligence file… these are the recently reported discoveries, if you want to look at them. And if you have the credit.”

    I made another credit transfer, noting my diminished finances with alarm. She responded with a grand gesture of invitation. I accepted and spoke to the datacloth – I’d always preferred verbal commands to the hand signs – and images appeared. Microbes, molds, fungi, insect species with secretions of potential interest; I looked at the schematics for each and pulled up what had been reported about them. The information about most of them was dismayingly incomplete, and the schematics didn’t show anything that looked like something I could develop with my training… and then I saw it.

    It was one of the fungi; there was more information about it than most of the new finds, and someone – the prospector who’d found it, or maybe the agent preparing it for offering – had done a computer simulation of one of its derivatives. I saw the formula for the derivative, and almost before I called up the simulation, I knew what it would show. We – the human “we” – had been dancing for decades around the edges of a drug that would facilitate the rerouting of neural pathways, something that could break the tyranny of habit and allow adults to learn as quickly as children. There were drugs and techniques that went partway. But if the simulation were even close to correct, this fungus could enable us to go much farther.

    I’d need partners, of course. The time was long past when anyone could develop a drug alone; I’d need lab space, a source of supply, specialist employees, and all those things were expensive. But if I could buy the rights – if I had the experimental license for Malaita and if I were the one who incorporated the development company – these wouldn’t be impossible to get, not with that simulation to show the investors. That could be my gift, my treasure. But before that…

    “Why isn’t this on sale already?” I asked. “There’s usually an offering plan by the time this much work has been done, isn’t there?”

    “Often,” Kere answered. “But sometimes not. That one’s still a risky proposition, you know – there’s a simulation, but computers can’t really simulate the complexity of the human brain. The tribes sometimes look for multiple uses before they sell or wait until there’s better data. And with this fungus… ah, I see. There are two tribes fighting over the rights, and one of them wants more control than usual. Non-standard packages of rights take longer to prepare.”

    “Aren’t the rights the same?” I’d read about the New Guinea exchange’s biological treasure-trove law before I left home – that’s how I knew that there were opportunities here that couldn’t be found in Belém or Kampala or Hyderabad – but maybe my research had been incomplete.

    “That’s only mostly true,” said Kere. “When the tribes established the exchange, they did agree on what rights could be sold and how they’d be put up for sale, but customary owners have latitude over whether to sell all or some of the rights and how to administer the licenses. The tribe that’s developing this one… yes, they’re Yali, and the Yali like to keep a lot for themselves.” She smiled, and I was suddenly sure that she was Yali herself.

    And if she was… “If I went there – went to the ones who registered first – do you have an idea what their price would be?”

    “A mantis, are you?” I remembered the mantis statue in the square, and wondered what she meant by that. “Maybe I have heard something. Unofficially, of course.” She let the silence linger for a moment and named a price.

    The price was entirely reasonable from the tribe’s point of view, especially given the early stage of development – if a discovery is still unproven and might not yield rich returns, it’s only natural for the owner to want more money up front in addition to royalties. But from my point of view, it was impossible. The savings I’d set aside for this, and the amount I could raise on short notice, weren’t nearly enough, and I suspected that there wasn’t much room to bargain.

    I rose from the table, and I suspected that just as I wasn’t the first to come to Kere with this idea, I wasn’t the first to leave with dashed hopes. But if so, she didn’t show it. “When you find the money,” she said, and the when didn’t escape my notice, “come back, and I’ll make your deal.”

    [to be continued]​
     
  20. Ephraim Ben Raphael Super Writer Extraordinaire

    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2009
    Location:
    Somewhere in the Khazar Empire
    I love the mix of future and past here. Advanced bioengineering, but cultures without family names. A guard checking passports... his face "spotted with white paint". I don't think I've ever seen a setting like this before.
     
    xsampa and John Spangler like this.
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