The “Known Space” fictional universe includes characters like ARM agent Gil Hamilton and a Pak Protector’s unwitting human victim, Jack Brennan. Those storylines are mostly forgotten. The Man-Kzin Wars set in this universe is so popular that there are multiple, recent short story collections published based on it. The most famous storyline is the Ringworld Saga. There’s even been discussion of a TV show based on it.

Then there’s “The State Series”. It shares a few assumptions as the Known Space universe. Earth’s population hits 15-20 billion, a tyrannical oppressive government takes over to control population and manage resources. In the “Known Space” universe, the government had mother hunts for illegal births and suppresses disruptive technology. However, it is not totally oppressive. The rich may drive race cars and live in restored English villas while millions live in a single room apartment that recycles everything.

In “The State”, the government that arises is far more oppressive and echoes the worst of Communist regimes. Food, water and other essentials are carefully rationed for the working class. Births are strictly controlled and done per eugenic guidelines. There are even checkers, political officers, based on the Soviet Union’s chekists.

If you’re guilty of wrong-think, the government has a novel solution. It copies the memories of corpsicles, the many frozen dead of our time, into the living mind-wiped bodies of dissidents. If the copied personality isn’t amenable to 20 years hard labor to pay for the favor of a new life, the subject goes to sleep and wakes up with a new set of memories. They don’t just do this to try to rehabilitate incorrigibles. It turns out that there are a few jobs for which they need specific personalities their society can’t produce – like space exploration.

There are three books set in “The State” timeline. “A World Out of Time” features a man who died in the 1970s waking up 200-300 years later and becoming a rammer, a spaceship pilot to carry terraforming pods to various worlds. He rebels once he leaves the solar system and ends up returning to Earth several million years in the future. That world is running of time.

The other two books “The Integral Trees” and “The Smoke Ring” take place in the Smoke Ring, a habitable non-planet one of the State’s crewed exploration ships found. It isn’t clear if the crew rebelled and decided to colonize or if the computer personality chekist pushed them in that direction, seeing a habitable non-planet that couldn’t be sterilized in a mega-supernova as perfect for humanity’s survival. (The 20 crew were selected as a microcosm of humanity so they COULD repopulate if something wiped out Earth.)

These books are a science lesson in and of themselves. The atmosphere is breathable, and the animals are mostly edible. However, it is all zero-G unless you’re living on an integral tree so big it offers low gravity. The author had to figure out how you could cook, sleep, eliminate waste and pilot ships/craft with low tech in such at atmosphere. You also see the effects of low and no gravity on a human population with 20 generations to adapt (with a high death rate for children as they did). Only the rare dwarves can wear the ancient space suits the original colonists brought with them.

These books would arguably make a good TV show or movie. A relatively simple, action-heavy plot set in a truly alien environment. The challenge would be showing people hunting and cooking in zero-G, though it could be done with modern special effects. Yet the attention has focused on Ringworld instead. Why?

One reason is that that future remains possible, while “The State” timeline has become a depressing alternate history akin to the Draka Domination. We beat Communism, for the most part, and the population tries to check the administrative elite that lives far better and defends its privileges because they’re so darn important. For example, in “A World Out of Time”, a traffic admin doesn’t go along with an elite’s request to become a mistress, so he sends her on an expedition to a black hole … so she ends up millions of years in the future with the protagonist. His lavish lifestyle is so associated with his caste that even she doesn’t question its ethics.

We have around 8 billion people and will top out at 9-10 before population falls. We don’t need oppressive micromanagement to keep everyone alive. The corpsicle fad involves a few thousand bodies, not millions because it was a normal way to be interred.

In short, the world has wildly diverged from that potential timeline, so these books seem impossible and irrelevant unless you totally rewrote the history. And you can enjoy the other stories by the same author, whether it is crafty human colonists versus 8 foot tall intelligent cats or exploring a manmade structure as large as millions of Earth.

*****

Photo by Pip R. Lagenta