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Old 12th March 2012, 07:03 AM   #1
Mark6
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Worst economics in science fiction?

Which SF story has absolutely worst, makes-no-freaking-sense economics? My vote goes to "Smoke Ring" by Larry Niven.

SPOILERS AHEAD!
















"Integral Trees" and its sequel "Smoke Ring" take place within a gas torus around a neutron star -- gas dense enough for life to develop and for humans to breath. People living in free-fall environement.

Unfortunately gas does not really act as it does in these books, and such gas torus cold never exist for more than a few weeks. Sigh. But assuming it did...

There are many many tribes throughout Smoke Ring, but the biggest and most civilized (called The Admiralty) is about 1500 adults plus unspecified number of children. Integral trees are by far the largest life form in the Smoke Ring, up to 100 km long. The Admiralty has several "logger" families who travel out into Smoke Ring, and bring back "small" trees, and sell the wood. "Small" in this case means about 30 km long and 100 meters in diameter. And one such tree arrives into Admiralty every year or so.

Takes-the-cake economic absurdity: What do 1500 people do with all that wood?
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Old 12th March 2012, 07:14 AM   #2
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Star Trek Next Generation "Best of Both Worlds"

Sir we lost 39 ships and over 11,000 Star Fleet personnel in the battle of Wolf 359. The good news is the fleet will be back to full strength within a year"
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Old 12th March 2012, 07:17 AM   #3
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Quote:
Takes-the-cake economic absudity: What do 1500 people do with all that wood?
I never got that far in it, woodcuts anyone?
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Old 12th March 2012, 08:00 AM   #4
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Eh, most SF doesn't really think hard even about the physics involved. Think, for example: why bother having antimatter torpedoes, when even blowing a handful of sand from the cat's littler box in the way of a ship coming at 0.99c will do the trick, as each grain of sand becomes a relativistic weapon and impacts with all the energy of a nuclear warhead?

Or even simple common-sense aspects of that cool technology and its applicability to the problem at hand, usually aren't really considered. E.g., why does every significant army in the SW galaxy use gas-based blasters that are rated for 30m effective range, with maybe heavy sniper versions being rated for as much as 300m, when they have the knowledge to make kinetic weapons that are better in every imaginable aspect, including not just range, but also being more lethal at comparable weapon sizes?

The ECONOMICS of it? I can't even think of any that actually put any thought in the actual economics of their universe, nor for that matter the social implications of that economics.

E.g., all those moisture farmers on Tattooine, who do they sell the water to? Other moisture farmers? The planet has no significant tourism, no significant exports are ever mentioned, and generally no sane reason to be in a place where water is expensive and virtually everyone else who isn't trying to kill you is also a water producer.

Seems to me like similar economics to what you describe.

And a lot of novels and movies even have the Cut Lex Luthor A Check problem: their bad guys throw disproportionate resources for no or insignificant return on investment. Will E Coyote pays for whole airplanes, to catch one bird for dinner, instead of just ordering some salmon and fillet mignon and lobster thermidor dinners for the rest of his life with the same money. You'd be surprised how much stuff in SF follows the same pattern of someone throwing money down a huge rat hole just to prove beyond doubt that he's evil.

Additionally, the situation you describe fails not just economics, but is more generally a common failure of the Planet Of Hats trope. Setting the whole "us vs them" comparison involves setting up whole cultures or indeed whole planets which can be characterized by a single activity or trait (this being their metaphorical "hat".) Whole cultures or even planets are lumberjacks, despite having no obvious use for all that wood. Whole cultures and indeed whole planets are warriors, despite the obvious need for someone to build those ships and weapons (and enslaving other races to do their work was obviously not an option before they actually became a mighty stellar empire.) Whole cultures or indeed planets, are pirates, bandits and slavers, despite the obvious problem it would pose before they're actually advanced enough to prey on OTHER species trade routes. Or you have whole species which are exclusively characterized as traders and respectively pirates, in an universe where every single good they can be trading or risking their lives to plunder, can be infinitely replicated for free by a standard replicator.

Some of those have obvious economic failures. E.g., the Ferengi in ST are obsessed with accumulating gold-pressed latinum, as the only material that can't be replicated for zero cost, which tells me they know about replication and have replicators. Fine, so far it makes sense to have a currency that can't be replicated. But what about everything else they buy or sell with it? What's the point of hauling dilithium crystals across the galaxy to sell for latinum, when everyone can just replicate those? What's the point of even having a currency, if it doesn't even help buy anything?

For that matter, what's with everyone even having agricultural and mining colonies and fighting bloody wars over them, when there is no economic reason for either?

That's really the kind of problem that most SF has, rather than it taking the cake when one book does it
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Old 12th March 2012, 08:11 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by HansMustermann View Post
<snip>
The ECONOMICS of it? I can't even think of any that actually put any thought in the actual economics of their universe, nor for that matter the social implications of that economics.

<snip>
And a lot of novels and movies even have the Cut Lex Luthor A Check problem: their bad guys throw disproportionate resources for no or insignificant return on investment. Will E Coyote pays for whole airplanes, to catch one bird for dinner, instead of just ordering some salmon and fillet mignon and lobster thermidor dinners for the rest of his life with the same money. You'd be surprised how much stuff in SF follows the same pattern of someone throwing money down a huge rat hole just to prove beyond doubt that he's evil.

<snip>
I don't know enough about economics to know if it all makes sense, but the Honor Harrington series by David Weber seems to give some thought to the economics in his universe and to the economic reasoning of the bad guys.
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Old 12th March 2012, 08:23 AM   #6
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On Star Trek they don't even use any money in the Federation, yet they bet during the poker games.
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Old 12th March 2012, 08:29 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by HansMustermann
E.g., all those moisture farmers on Tattooine, who do they sell the water to? Other moisture farmers? The planet has no significant tourism, no significant exports are ever mentioned, and generally no sane reason to be in a place where water is expensive and virtually everyone else who isn't trying to kill you is also a water producer.
Well, there's the fact that it's one of the major hubbs of one of the largest crime syndicates in the galaxy. There's also the banthas, which are sorta like cows in our world, used for meat, leather, etc. We know those exist on Tattooine, but I'm not sure if they exist anywhere else. That part makes economic sense, particularly for someone looking to hide, or someone who's never known any other life.

Quote:
Whole cultures and indeed whole planets are warriors, despite the obvious need for someone to build those ships and weapons (and enslaving other races to do their work was obviously not an option before they actually became a mighty stellar empire.)
You're making a fundamental assumption, one which is demonstrably not true: namely, that cultures remain the same. They don't. Rome, for example, used to be divided into two quite clearly defined classes fo people (been too long since I've looked into it, so I can't remember their names). Is Italy still so strictly divided? Is Europe? Germany used to be a bunch of warring clans only occasionally lead by a single ruler. Is that still the case? It's perfectly plausible for a culture to shift, AFTER it's developed interstellar travel, into a culture that worships warriors. It could be that they were nice enough folks, until they encountered some alien race that tried to enslave THEM. There was a war, and the first aliens enslaved the second as punishment. Then they realized that this made their lives a LOT easier, and a lot of songs and stories got made about the warriors, resulting in a few generations that practically worshiped the military. Once you have a significant number of children being brought up to believe something, it can be said to be part of the culture. Thus, a race no more hostile than your average middle-class American can become the Klingons in a single interstellar war. And if you get a few generals in political office (not uncommon at all--our own government has had numerous military heros in charge of it) the culture could easily be manipulated even further toward worshiping the military. After all, a general is a military rank, and would be set for life if not worshiped as a god.

Quote:
The ECONOMICS of it? I can't even think of any that actually put any thought in the actual economics of their universe, nor for that matter the social implications of that economics.
Dune, for one. He tied his economics pretty tightly to a single comodity, but he discussed the implications of it (in fact, that was the climax of several of the books). Paul Atreides basically threatened to destroy the economy of the empire if they didn't do what he said, which is how he won in the end.
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Old 12th March 2012, 08:37 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by Avery Dashwood View Post
On Star Trek they don't even use any money in the Federation, yet they bet during the poker games.
I didn't watch enough TNG to know the answer to this, but what were they betting with? Firefly does a quite neat sidestep of this by having people bet with chores.
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Old 12th March 2012, 08:44 AM   #9
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Peter F Hamilton does a pretty good job of working economics and market forces into his stories in a multi-light year environment
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Old 12th March 2012, 08:46 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by Lamuella View Post
I didn't watch enough TNG to know the answer to this, but what were they betting with? Firefly does a quite neat sidestep of this by having people bet with chores.
They have only ever shown them betting with chips - I suspect it is purely for bragging rights because Ricker cleans them out pretty regularly, and Worf by his own admission never bluffs
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Old 12th March 2012, 08:57 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by Dinwar View Post
Well, there's the fact that it's one of the major hubbs of one of the largest crime syndicates in the galaxy.
Yup.

Moisture farming works by using vaporators to extract what tiny, tiny bits of humidity exist in Tattooine's atmosphere. This only works if the vaporators, and thus the moisture farms, are really far apart from each other, since if they're too close together, one vaporator will get all the limited moisture while another will get nothing (or both vaporators will get only a small portion each, which is really inefficient).

Then, these remote, isolated moisture farms sell their water to cities like Mos Eisley, Mos Espa, and Anchorhead (whose populations are too large and too close together to be able to have enough vaporators of their own to supply everyone). Those towns started as mining towns, to mine the ore found on the planet, with a minor sideline in smuggling and trade because Tattooine was located in an advantageous position along a main hyperspace trade route. Unfortunately, the ore proved to be extremely crappy, and after one too many space vehicles crashed due to the shoddy materials used in the construction, mining was abandoned.

That's when the Hutts basically moved in and turned Tattooine into a smuggler's stopover pretty much full-time, because it was both A) way out of the way so the government didn't really care what happened there, and B) still in an advantageous spot for smuggling and illicit trading. The water farmers just shifted to selling their "produce" to the people in the smuggler port towns.

And, at least at the time of "Phantom Menace", there was one major tourist draw - the Boonta Eve podrace, one of the major events on the podracing circuit, which drew competitors and spectators from all over, the way NASCAR attracts floods of racing fans to the nearby-to-me town of Talladega.
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Old 12th March 2012, 09:05 AM   #12
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I think it's more interesting to find examples of stories that make sense than don't.

There is probably a whole in any story though.

I enjoyed John Ringo's economic portrayal in the Troy Rising series. The entire series is basically about the economic of building our society up to compete with the already established alien species.
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Old 12th March 2012, 09:20 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by HansMustermann View Post
Eh, most SF doesn't really think hard even about the physics involved. Think, for example: why bother having antimatter torpedoes, when even blowing a handful of sand from the cat's littler box in the way of a ship coming at 0.99c will do the trick, as each grain of sand becomes a relativistic weapon and impacts with all the energy of a nuclear warhead?

See? I knew those cats were up to something!
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Old 12th March 2012, 10:05 AM   #14
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I'm not sure what it says about us, ANTPogo, that we're both THAT well-versed in the Star Wars universe.

Asimove's books deal with economics as well. I'm not a fan of the economic system he establishes, but that doesn't deminish the fact that he does actually deal with the economic consequences of, for example, overpopulation on Earth and the sparse population on other planets. The fact that Earth is considered a relatively unimportant backwater is also rather fun.
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Old 12th March 2012, 10:29 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by Lamuella View Post
I didn't watch enough TNG to know the answer to this, but what were they betting with? Firefly does a quite neat sidestep of this by having people bet with chores.
What's really funny is that Firefly didn't need to sidestep the issue- they live in a universe where money and scarcity are very real- in fact, they were betting chores because they didn't have any money at the time.
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Old 12th March 2012, 10:41 AM   #16
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This is the issue with the majority of fantasy/science fiction worlds in general. In some cases, it's a matter of lazy writing, but in others the story itself (which is interesting) would fail utterly if the economics had to be realistic.
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Old 12th March 2012, 11:23 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by Dinwar View Post
I'm not sure what it says about us, ANTPogo, that we're both THAT well-versed in the Star Wars universe.
Nothing good, probably!

I can only comfort myself with the fact that at least I'm not one of those dorky Star Trek fans.
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Old 12th March 2012, 11:26 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by Dinwar View Post
Well, there's the fact that it's one of the major hubbs of one of the largest crime syndicates in the galaxy. There's also the banthas, which are sorta like cows in our world, used for meat, leather, etc. We know those exist on Tattooine, but I'm not sure if they exist anywhere else.
Unless Bantha meat is some delicacy that is worth its weight in gold, the numbers that such a barren planet can support are tiny and hardly making any farmer rich. The economics of importing bantha meat from Tattooine as opposed to eating the meat of local Nerfs on, say, Alderaan, is just not there.

And generally, the price of food tends to be waay low in any heavily industrialized and mechanized society. Just look at Earth nowadays. The only ones even breaking even are those getting subsidies, even in the most fertile areas. You're not going to make the big bucks raising Banthas in a desert, sorry. Not when you're competing with people producing stuff on fertile and technologically advanced places like Alderaan or Dantooine.

Originally Posted by Dinwar View Post
That part makes economic sense, particularly for someone looking to hide, or someone who's never known any other life.
Not in any realistic way. It can be handwaved as making some sense by Lucas, but it's really in the same way as it can be handwaved that a city of 1500 people can make living with wood they're not having much of a market for.

Even if you're looking to hide, there is no point in going to a place where even water costs a mint, being produced in tiny quantities per farmer, and where just a shower or brushing your teeth can set you back accordingly. You'd need to be incredibly rich to even afford to stay hidden there for any extended time, at that point, frankly, why don't you go hide in some better place AND cheaper place like Nar Shaddaa?

Even the excuse of supplying stuff for the smuggler cities, runs into the problem that smuggling in the SW universe is itself something that doesn't make much sense. It's exactly the cliche of big, expensive, top-technology ships carrying tiny amounts of inexpensive goods. Whether it's Han Solo or the smuggler in the SW:TOR intro, or whatever, the ships are invariably touted as the fastest in <insert chunk of space or class>, and shown as beiing able to outmaneuver fighters, and withstand attacks by whole squadrons of fighters and bombers. We're talking things that are pushing the technology envelope, and that ain't cheap. Yet invariably they don't even have space for more than tiny amounts of anything on board, and even if they're carrying drugs ("spice"), it's the stuff that apparently every junkie can afford. But occasionally we hear even of inexpensive stuff like food being smuggled.

So already it's pretty much something that you have to take on faith that it even breaks even. (Then again, Han Solo obviously wasn't breaking even.) Deciding to then spend your time in THE planed with the worst bang-per-buck, the one which has almost no services or more entertainment than a cheap bar, and everything including a glass of water is waaay too expensive... why? What sense does that add to something that's already at best borderline? Why not just skip it entirely and stick to whatever planets A and B you're smuggling stuff between? You must be obviously able to fake your ID or whatever it takes to land on both, or you'll not be able to load from one and unload to the other. So why not just stay in a cheaper cantina on either of them, since you're already there? What sense does it makes to go to a planet that's both crap AND overpriced?

The premise is basically like saying that someone transporting drugs by submarine from Colombia to the USA, would need to spend their time in between runs in some imaginary uber-expensive hotel in Haiti. Why? Why not just stay in Colombia or the USA?

Originally Posted by Dinwar View Post
You're making a fundamental assumption, one which is demonstrably not true: namely, that cultures remain the same.
It's actually a thing that's stated, implied, or even explicitly shown in most settings. The Mandalorians in SW, for example, are shown as being and staying insanely war-obsessed for hundreds or thousands of years.

The Ferengi in ST have even their current set of rules of acquisition since the time of the first Grand Nagus of their alliance, and presumably a mercantile system for even longer. One of their criticisms of humanity is that it took humans 6000 years to come up with centralized banking, so presumably they had theirs much earlier. And at any rate, they don't change much in the centuries between they're first introduced in ST:NG to their depiction in STO.

It's not just my assumption that such cultures don't change, it's often really canon that they don't change a dysfunctional unidimensional culture for a lot more time than it would realistically be able to coast on its past capital before crashing horribly.

Originally Posted by Dinwar View Post
They don't. Rome, for example, used to be divided into two quite clearly defined classes fo people (been too long since I've looked into it, so I can't remember their names).
Not sure which you mean. Patricians vs plebeians? Actually that was a historical division by lineage, and you could skip between the two by adoption or marriage. Also by the time of the empire, there were plenty of rich plebeians and even more dirt-poor patricians.

But more importantly, both were supposed to show the same chest-thumping martial spirit, but both were actually more complex than that. Most of Rome's power was actually driven by the economy, and we see even hereditary senators later trying to get a slice of the trade pie by making trade companies in the name of their freedmen.

Rome was a very complex thing, with a rich culture, and a mix of economic, artistic, military, etc, aspects, not just one like the "planet of hats" in some SF settings.

Originally Posted by Dinwar View Post
Is Italy still so strictly divided?
No, but it also never passed through any historical point where a culture could be defined by just one trait.

Originally Posted by Dinwar View Post
Is Europe?
Ditto.

Originally Posted by Dinwar View Post
Germany used to be a bunch of warring clans only occasionally lead by a single ruler. Is that still the case?
Germany used to be a more complex thing than Klingons at any point in known history, including its stage of hunter-gatherer barbarians. They had a functioning economy to support them, they mined (German iron was very prized by the Romans), they crafted, they traded with the Romans, they made alliances with other nearby confederations (see, for example, Caesar's account of the migration of the Helvetii,) they had their own art, etc. There simply is no point in the past that is even comparable to those one-aspect cultures from a lot of SF, and which would thus justify that kind of one-aspect culture.

Originally Posted by Dinwar View Post
It's perfectly plausible for a culture to shift, AFTER it's developed interstellar travel, into a culture that worships warriors. It could be that they were nice enough folks, until they encountered some alien race that tried to enslave THEM. There was a war, and the first aliens enslaved the second as punishment. Then they realized that this made their lives a LOT easier, and a lot of songs and stories got made about the warriors, resulting in a few generations that practically worshiped the military. Once you have a significant number of children being brought up to believe something, it can be said to be part of the culture. Thus, a race no more hostile than your average middle-class American can become the Klingons in a single interstellar war. And if you get a few generals in political office (not uncommon at all--our own government has had numerous military heros in charge of it) the culture could easily be manipulated even further toward worshiping the military. After all, a general is a military rank, and would be set for life if not worshiped as a god.
Handwaving imaginary scenarios is good and fine if you're writing SF, but not if we're discussing the realism of such situations, or if they could actually survive any significant amount of time -- much less the thousands of years they get in some settings -- as such a dysfunctional society.

Middle-class Americans CANNOT become Klingons any more than they can become Vulcans, because humans don't work that way, and they'd still have a pyramid of needs that includes more than war. They could start chest-thumping for war all right, but you'll still have people trying to get their status and recognition by other means, e.g., by getting rich. The same would probably apply to alien species too. A species which wasn't too dysfunctional to reach warp travel stage, won't change their brain wiring over night into everyone being unidimensional.

Plus, again, that's not what most of such settings tell us. The general trope seems to be the contrary, that cultures that evolved on lush planets are all peaceful and wise and were so for as long as anyone remembers, and cultures that evolved on harsh planets, are naturally inclined to solve everything by shooting first and asking later. The time scales at which a dysfunctional society existed tend to be anywhere between thousands of years, if they just moved there from somewhere else, to evolutionary timescales if that's actually their home planet.

Very rarely some series actually does explore the question of "so how did those get to be a space empire if they're THAT dysfunctional?", like for example Enterprise did for the Klingons and Vulcans. But then that tends to result in fanboys bemoaning that even considering an age where the Klingons weren't driven by one-track-mindededness and rabid adherence to warrior codes is contrary to the original spirit and vision.

Originally Posted by Dinwar View Post
Dune, for one. He tied his economics pretty tightly to a single comodity, but he discussed the implications of it (in fact, that was the climax of several of the books). Paul Atreides basically threatened to destroy the economy of the empire if they didn't do what he said, which is how he won in the end.
Duly noted, Dune sorta manages to handwave that kind of economy more convincingly than other settings... never mind that that kind of economy or society never actually existed, or that the whole setting needs bending everything else, from physics to basic human reactions, into a pretzel, just to make it work. It's one of those things that seem profound mostly by virtue of actually not making much sense.

Last edited by HansMustermann; 12th March 2012 at 11:27 AM.
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Old 12th March 2012, 11:34 AM   #19
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Originally Posted by HansMustermann View Post
Some of those have obvious economic failures. E.g., the Ferengi in ST are obsessed with accumulating gold-pressed latinum, as the only material that can't be replicated for zero cost, which tells me they know about replication and have replicators. Fine, so far it makes sense to have a currency that can't be replicated. But what about everything else they buy or sell with it? What's the point of hauling dilithium crystals across the galaxy to sell for latinum, when everyone can just replicate those? What's the point of even having a currency, if it doesn't even help buy anything?
It's well established on Star Trek that replication can be time-consuming, isn't perfect (especially with respect to more complex biologicals), and doesn't work on everything.
For example, dilithium and other energy sources can't be replicated. The replicator also has to use existing raw materials (so markets still exist in purified metals and other elements).
Replicated luxury items are generally inferior to the originals -- food and beverages don't taste quite the same, materials don't feel quite right, etc.
Finally, many items have value by being originals. Art objects and archeological artifacts hold their value even if you can manufacture a knock-off that looks essentially identical to the real thing.
And, in practice, when you take a look at what the Ferengi are selling in Star Trek, it's usually in these categories -- artifacts and art, luxury consumables, bulky equipment, or raw materials.
The only time you see the Ferengi trying to sell the sort of mass-produced, manufactured goods that the replicator could meaningfully reproduce, is when they're encountering planets outside the Federation without ready access to the replicator -- which is to say, not often in the main TV series.
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Old 12th March 2012, 11:59 AM   #20
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Actually, that's been VERY inadequately and inconsistently handwaved.

The replicators at some point even were supposed to basically have infinite energy, because they can even replicate their own charged batteries.

Imperfections or inabilities on organic creatures are rendered moot by the fact that the transporter essentially IS a glorified replicator. It's been repeatedly stated that it only actually scans, makes a copy and destroys the original, and its ability to accurately duplicate a living being is shown at least once with Riker. But it's even shown that you can manipulate the information in its buffer, to reassemble someone in some previous state, or to assemble a changed version of them. They actually use it to cure Dr Pulaski of a rapid aging disease by basically editing the information and reassembling a version of her without the problems.

Furthermore, this process is accurate enough to work even on Data's positronic brain, and really anything that the team wants to haul back with it, including dilithium crystals.

And has 40,000 km range at that, AND in one episode it's shown to be accurate and quick enough to scan to perform a beaming up while traveling at warp speeds. I.e., something where it would be within those 40,000 km for at most nanoseconds.

So whatever handwaved limitations there were with the regular replicators are rendered moot by the fact that they have a much more powerful replicator aboard every ship, and one which, again, was even shown in the canon to work as a replicator.

It seems to me like something which, far from justifying the other inconsistencies, is itself an inconsistency you have to gloss over.
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Old 12th March 2012, 12:41 PM   #21
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Originally Posted by HansMustermann
Unless Bantha meat is some delicacy that is worth its weight in gold, the numbers that such a barren planet can support are tiny and hardly making any farmer rich.
Who said anything about rich? The only rich being on Tattooine is Jabba. I'm merely arguing that it makes moisture farming viable, which has a MUCH lower threshold. Look into the settling of the USA's Great Plains for an example of this. Also, remember that people get very attached to their homesteads. Even if it's expensive you'll have people sticking around because their fathers and mothers stuck around. ANTPogo already outlined why they started colonizing the planet.

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Even if you're looking to hide, there is no point in going to a place where even water costs a mint, being produced in tiny quantities per farmer, and where just a shower or brushing your teeth can set you back accordingly.
Check your history books. This is more or less exactly what happeend when the USA pushed westward.

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Even the excuse of supplying stuff for the smuggler cities, runs into the problem that smuggling in the SW universe is itself something that doesn't make much sense. It's exactly the cliche of big, expensive, top-technology ships carrying tiny amounts of inexpensive goods. Whether it's Han Solo or the smuggler in the SW:TOR intro, or whatever, the ships are invariably touted as the fastest in <insert chunk of space or class>, and shown as beiing able to outmaneuver fighters, and withstand attacks by whole squadrons of fighters and bombers. We're talking things that are pushing the technology envelope, and that ain't cheap. Yet invariably they don't even have space for more than tiny amounts of anything on board, and even if they're carrying drugs ("spice"), it's the stuff that apparently every junkie can afford. But occasionally we hear even of inexpensive stuff like food being smuggled.
Again, I suggest you check your history books. Particularly pirates and the Brittish blockaid of France in the Nepoleanic Wars. Also, while they're high-end in terms of performance, Lucas made a point of referring to the Millenium Falcon as a "pile of junk" on many occasions, and it obviously wasn't what you'd call "plush" inside.

As for the economics, look at the entire Age of Imperialism. The whole point of sailing west was to look for spices. They used the cutting edge of technology and a great deal of money to look for a faster route by which comparatively small volumes of very expensive substances can be traded. This is precisely analogous to Star Wars smuggling, considering the fact that the Hutts were a legitimate government (of Nal Hutta, and Nar Shada, but still a legitimate government).

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Why not just skip it entirely and stick to whatever planets A and B you're smuggling stuff between?
Ever wonder why so many ships sank in the Carribean? Same concept.

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Rome was a very complex thing, with a rich culture, and a mix of economic, artistic, military, etc, aspects, not just one like the "planet of hats" in some SF settings.
Right, I get that. You missed my point, though: Italy isn't Roman anymore. However complex the cultures, the one is not the other.

And as for the long lineage of doing the same stupid thing for thousands of years, well, the victors write the history books.

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Middle-class Americans CANNOT become Klingons any more than they can become Vulcans, because humans don't work that way, and they'd still have a pyramid of needs that includes more than war.
The Middle Ages demonstrated that a human economy can work even if it praises martial prowes and openly is hostile to trade. It's not GOOD, necessarily, but it worked for about a thousand years and the populatoin of Europe rather quickly rose to more than that of the Roman Empire (well, until the Black Death, anyway) so it had to have something going for it. Remember, unless you're reading Ayn Rand you're not going to see the details of the economy. Luke Skywalker never goes to a mechanic, Kirk never visits a barber, SeaQuest never gets into the details of smelting, etc., yet we can reasonably assume that such jobs in fact existed. A culture devouted to warriors isn't going to parade their merchants to the galaxy, but you can be sure that they're there.

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general trope seems to be the contrary, that cultures that evolved on lush planets are all peaceful and wise and were so for as long as anyone remembers,
This is where our disagreement is fundamentaly stemming from. You're saying that the culture started when people remember it starting. I'm saying it probably started a great deal earlier, based on our history, and evolved into the culture the sci-fi writer presents. And I'm also saying that the writer, unless they have a specific reason to, isn't going to get into the nuts-and-bolts of every little aspect of a culture. We can reasonably assume that species in the Star Treck universe eat things other than delicacies, for example--they have to have some comfort food that's as common as Mac & Cheese--despite every meal on the Enterprise being a delicacy.

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Very rarely some series actually does explore the question of "so how did those get to be a space empire if they're THAT dysfunctional?",
What I'm saying is that there's no reason to assume that just because a species is that disfunctional, and a space empire, that they became a space empire while being that disfunctional. It could just as easily be that they became a space empire and THEN became disfunctional.

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Duly noted, Dune sorta manages to handwave that kind of economy more convincingly than other settings... never mind that that kind of economy or society never actually existed,
I wouldn't say "never". If you got rid of oil, our economy would collaps pretty fast, for example. We may be able to rebound, but we'd certainly falter long enough for someone to overthrow our government (how would we defend ourselves? Our entire defense system is based on oil).
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Old 12th March 2012, 12:52 PM   #22
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Originally Posted by RobRoy View Post
This is the issue with the majority of fantasy/science fiction worlds in general. In some cases, it's a matter of lazy writing, but in others the story itself (which is interesting) would fail utterly if the economics had to be realistic.
In case of "Smoke Ring" it was lazy writing, as moving gigantic trees around was superficial to the story. Niven could have had the "loggers" ("prospectors"?) travel the Smoke Ring and bring back something much smaller and more realistic, and the book would have been exactly same.
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Old 12th March 2012, 01:04 PM   #23
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The Golgafrinchans used leaves as currency until they realized that everyone could gather an abundance of leaves at which point they decided to burn down all the forests and thus revalue the leaves.
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Old 12th March 2012, 01:04 PM   #24
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Originally Posted by Mark6 View Post
In case of "Smoke Ring" it was lazy writing, as moving gigantic trees around was superficial to the story. Niven could have had the "loggers" ("prospectors"?) travel the Smoke Ring and bring back something much smaller and more realistic, and the book would have been exactly same.
Sure, and while I haven't read that particular book, I have read Niven. Some of his stories are more about what he thinks would be cool, as opposed to what's reasonable, rational, or plausible. So Niven might be considered a lazy fictional economist, while at the same time still an excellent fictional author.
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Old 12th March 2012, 01:24 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by HansMustermann View Post
Actually, that's been VERY inadequately and inconsistently handwaved.Imperfections or inabilities on organic creatures are rendered moot by the fact that the transporter essentially IS a glorified replicator.
It's all about the buffer. The buffer can temporarily store the information, including the atom-by-atom interactions, to allow for transport. But this information is far in excess of what the database can store for replicator use.

You beam up an ice cream sundae, its detailed structure is stored in the buffer (a signature that rapidly decays, by the way), you get a perfect ice cream sundae. You replicate an ice cream sundae, you're doing so on the basis of a replicator pattern with far less information than a transporter pattern.
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Old 12th March 2012, 01:26 PM   #26
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Not any particular story, but... any SF story that involves manual/unskilled slave labor is unrealistic.
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Old 12th March 2012, 01:38 PM   #27
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Originally Posted by Chaos View Post
Not any particular story, but... any SF story that involves manual/unskilled slave labor is unrealistic.
manual/unskilled slave labor AND high technology.

Post-apocalyptic fiction is a subset of SF.

But yes, that's what immediately set off my Suspension of Disbelief alarms when I read "Time Enough for Love". Although IIRC, the only uses of slaves actually mentioned in that book were sexual.
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Old 12th March 2012, 02:58 PM   #28
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Originally Posted by MG1962 View Post
Star Trek Next Generation "Best of Both Worlds"

Sir we lost 39 ships and over 11,000 Star Fleet personnel in the battle of Wolf 359. The good news is the fleet will be back to full strength within a year"
Well I'm sure a couple of thousand member planets could manage that.
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Old 12th March 2012, 03:05 PM   #29
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Originally Posted by AvalonXQ View Post
You beam up an ice cream sundae, its detailed structure is stored in the buffer (a signature that rapidly decays, by the way)
Unless that episode's writer needs something different. How long was Scotty stored in a transporter buffer for?
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Old 12th March 2012, 03:36 PM   #30
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Originally Posted by Wudang View Post
Unless that episode's writer needs something different. How long was Scotty stored in a transporter buffer for?
Like 75 years? The writers did some tap-dancing on the pattern degradation though, and whoever the guy/girl with Scotty didn't make it. So Scotty's solution wasn't perfect, even though it saved him and allowed him to show up in TNG for a pretty awesome episode. The Dyson sphere alone was worth it, not to mention the "it is green" moment.
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Old 12th March 2012, 03:43 PM   #31
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Originally Posted by Dinwar View Post
We can reasonably assume that species in the Star Treck universe eat things other than delicacies, for example--they have to have some comfort food that's as common as Mac & Cheese--despite every meal on the Enterprise being a delicacy.
Star Trek did try to address this - Season 4 an episdode "Family" has Worf showing his adopted human parents around the ship. At one stage the mother confides to Troy, she tried hard to make Klingon food but was never sure she got bloodbeast pie right.

At the end of the episode as she is leaving she asks Worf can she sends him anything, he responds "Your Bloodbeast pie"

So clearly the replicators could do the job but lacked that final something that only say a mother can add to a dish
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Old 12th March 2012, 03:57 PM   #32
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Originally Posted by MG1962 View Post
Star Trek did try to address this - Season 4 an episdode "Family" has Worf showing his adopted human parents around the ship. At one stage the mother confides to Troy, she tried hard to make Klingon food but was never sure she got bloodbeast pie right.

At the end of the episode as she is leaving she asks Worf can she sends him anything, he responds "Your Bloodbeast pie"

So clearly the replicators could do the job but lacked that final something that only say a mother can add to a dish
Aww. . . The missing ingredient was---
nutmeg. It's always nutmeg.
What do you all think the "spice" in Dune actually was?
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Old 12th March 2012, 04:22 PM   #33
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Dorky Star Trek fan weighing in here...

You can't take every word, even of "canon" as something that must be held true in context for the whole to be worthwhile. With so much material of varying quality to pick from, it makes sense for a fan to simply choose what works for them and disregard/handwave/"broad strokes" what doesn't.

In a Star Trek storyverse to my ideals, replicators work but have lots of the aforementioned limitations to crafting the old-fashioned way. Replicating their own batteries is clearly nonsense and I definitely discount that as a possibility.

The biggest limitation as I see it is to remember that replicating something requires a massive amount of power, and is only economical because of the ludicrous power available to matter-antimatter reactors. Plenty of stuff would still be physically made for artistic reasons, and also where perhaps there isn't an anti-matter power source handy.

Replicators would be of special use when something needs to be made FAST, in larger quantities than available raw material, or when it needs extra precision in duplicating parts, and only in an energy-rich context.

Transporters share some of the functions with replicators, but have additional limitations, that SOMETIMES can be worked around, but not reliably, and often not intentionally. Again, plot lines that rely on stupidly powerful transporters are bunk to me... but it's all made up, so I don't have to agree with all of it.

Where it comes to the Mirror Universe reachable by flaky transporters, it's just the triumph of Rule of Cool.
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Old 12th March 2012, 04:46 PM   #34
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Originally Posted by autumn1971 View Post
Aww. . . The missing ingredient was---
nutmeg. It's always nutmeg.
What do you all think the "spice" in Dune actually was?
Worm poop presumably.
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Old 12th March 2012, 05:02 PM   #35
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If I recall correctly the Dorsai parts of the Childe cycle had a good stab at an interplanetary economy - even though it had monolithic culture per planet.
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Old 12th March 2012, 05:13 PM   #36
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Originally Posted by Chaos View Post
Not any particular story, but... any SF story that involves manual/unskilled slave labor is unrealistic.
Actually, that's probably the most realistic SF story out there.

I mean, it's essentially the SF story we're living right now: people in one place living in luxury and enjoying the most advanced technology the setting has to offer, while people in another place live in poverty and work in terrible conditions, often manufacturing the same advanced technology enjoyed by the first group.

Science fiction economics? More like science fact.
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Old 12th March 2012, 06:03 PM   #37
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A couple of different takes on a replicator economy are The People Maker (revised and republished as A for Anything) by Damon Knight and the later "Venus Equilateral" stories by George O. Smith.

In the Knight story, replicators are strictly controlled, and slave labor is the driving force of the economy, because while you can replicate people, you can't replicate labor. Also, enough nasty people get a kick out of exerting control over others. One squickier sub-plot involves a young woman who is repeatedly replicated by each generation of one family to be the mother of the next generation.

The Smith stories are a series of increasingly super-science advances, finally landing on power transmission and matter duplication. Living beings can't be duplicated (until later). The economy collapses but the day is saved when the inventors come up with a form of handwavium metal that explodes when duplicated, to act as a replacement for money and a safeguard against duplication. A golden age ensues.

Fred

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Old 12th March 2012, 06:09 PM   #38
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Originally Posted by gnome View Post
Dorky Star Trek fan weighing in here...

You can't take every word, even of "canon" as something that must be held true in context for the whole to be worthwhile. With so much material of varying quality to pick from, it makes sense for a fan to simply choose what works for them and disregard/handwave/"broad strokes" what doesn't.

In a Star Trek storyverse to my ideals, replicators work but have lots of the aforementioned limitations to crafting the old-fashioned way. Replicating their own batteries is clearly nonsense and I definitely discount that as a possibility.

The biggest limitation as I see it is to remember that replicating something requires a massive amount of power, and is only economical because of the ludicrous power available to matter-antimatter reactors. Plenty of stuff would still be physically made for artistic reasons, and also where perhaps there isn't an anti-matter power source handy.

Replicators would be of special use when something needs to be made FAST, in larger quantities than available raw material, or when it needs extra precision in duplicating parts, and only in an energy-rich context.

Transporters share some of the functions with replicators, but have additional limitations, that SOMETIMES can be worked around, but not reliably, and often not intentionally. Again, plot lines that rely on stupidly powerful transporters are bunk to me... but it's all made up, so I don't have to agree with all of it.

Where it comes to the Mirror Universe reachable by flaky transporters, it's just the triumph of Rule of Cool.
Yet Picard gives a lone settler family on a dead planet a replicator, just in case, and it obviously doesn't need a whole ship reactor to power it. In fact, it looks like there isn't any more to it than just about the part you see on the ship's wall.

Also on the topic of replicators, in "Alegiance", the aliens use basically a modified replicator to create a Picard impostor. So obviously it doesn't take all that much to replicate something not just living, but a living sentient being, and there ARE species in the galaxy which have that technology.

The replicator also obviously has enough resolution to target individual CO2 mollecules in the air, and act as basically an air recycler, as of Deep Space Nine.

The replicator also effectively does have infinite energy even if you skip the part where it replicates its batteries, as it can convert matter into energy, and is used as basically a recycling bin. Which renders the energy requirements fully irrelevant. If you need to produce 2 pounds of anything, since e=mc2 for any matter, you can just shovel two pounds of dirt into it.

In fact, in pretty much any closed system, where matter doesn't get lost into space, a replicator would need not much extra energy. Once you have replicators that can recycle matter into energy, essentially all the food and drink that goes into people, has to come out in some form or another. It will be as CO2, sweat, and, well, other byproducts. If it doesn't leave the ship AND you have replicators which are accurate enough to recycle even individual CO2 mollecules out of the air, all that can be just transformed back into energy and then transformed into more food, drinks, and whatever else the crew needs.

Also whatever energy problems it may have, they obviously are no matter when the same technology is used in holodecks just for entertainment.

You're basically right that one can't take the whole canon literally, because the whole thing doesn't even make any damn sense (as in, all stated rules and limitations AND the stuff that they did with it across all episodes, can't really be true at the same time) if you think too much about it. Every other episode breaks some stated rules.

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Old 12th March 2012, 08:31 PM   #39
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Why would replicating the batteries be nonsense? Energy storage is, after all, predominantly an issue of arranging atoms and particles. If you have enough energy to make a banana split you have enough for a batter of the same size, and since they've found a way around the issue of the whole thing exploding because of unbalanced charges and the like we can presume that holding the atoms apart until the system is stable isn't an issue (either it has to do that anyway, or it just makes the fully-formed thing all at once, instead of producing it 3D printer-style). Or, it could replicate a solar panel--I've noticed that there aren't a whole lot of really dark areas on a Federation ship. That'd amount to the same thing as replicating batteries. Or it could replicate the replicator. Or it could replicate biomass and burn it for fuel.
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Old 12th March 2012, 08:38 PM   #40
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