Does an Interstellar Species go extinct?

Those of you who have been reading the Star Tribes series have seen Daniel’s ruminations on the topic. Assuming a reliable, fast FTL technology that allows regular travel and commerce between different stars, would a species that start colonizing ever die out? Hard question to answer. On Earth, rats have been introduced everywhere that humans have landed, with the result of them overwhelming the local ecosystem in many places. Rabbits, cats, and dogs fall into the same category, to the extent that it generally requires a massive effort to remove them later, doubly so if you don’t want to destroy the rest of the ecosystem that was already in place.

So let’s look at the stars themselves. Multi-star travel presumes that we have a pretty big system going in. Even if we never encounter intelligent, tool-using, alien life (one of the Alexandria Station universe’s assumptions), we will still expand.

In the Concordency Wars (10,389 – 10,397 CE), large fleets of robotic warships went and pummels inhabited worlds from space, while also destroying every starship they could locate. They didn’t get everyone, but did sufficient economic damage that everyone basically collapsed to Iron Age or earlier in a single generation. From there, most worlds fell into darkness as disease and poverty combined to overwhelm thing.

Think about it. How much of what you consume (food, media, medicine, etc.) could you produce yourself, if the factories were blown up suddenly tomorrow? Sure, you’d have some level of ability to loot the corpse of society for spare parts, at least for a time, but eventually, you have to make it yourself.

How many of you can make aspirin? Penicillin? Etc.? Not many. Sowe can presume that pretty quickly people would starve. Most people. The remainder would move to a life of hunting, fishing, and farming, but even that fails. I have a pair of bows and enough arrows to last for a while, plus PAPER books on how to make more. Bullets would run out in years. Maybe decades, but people gotta eat. Big machines to plow and harvest need fuel and parts. And those are turning into robots. What happens when GPS dies?

So you see, this one world could fall apart and suffer a huge population crash pretty quickly. Places closer to primitive lifestyles would actually do better at maintaining themselves over the long haul.

Let’s look at galactic society now. I would presume a lot of colonies from a motherworld, without factories to produce advanced things, requiring them to import things expensively from across space. Anyone who has read history understands how that comes about.

We’ve seen the rise and fall of both Bronze Age and Iron Age Hellenic Greece (Homer and Socrates, if you will). The Rise and Fall of the Roman Republic, Empire, and Byzantine Empire. The Rise and Fall of the Arab nations to dominance. France. The United Kingdom.

Right now, we are living through the Fall of the United States from Empire. It will be just as ugly as the fall of Rome was, unless we merely fragment into something like the Three Kingdoms or the Spring and Autumn Period.

Still, history is happening.

So, let’s go to space, and envision the collapse of our stellar empire. At best, I always presume that a multi-stellar system will at minimum be a republic, probably an oligarchy, likely an empire as Romans or Chinese did those things. Static, for the most part, with regional governors granted exceptional powers to control things, as long as they pay their taxes inward and get replaced regularly.

So a civil war hits. Or maybe a pandemic. (You think you’ll control a disease if enough people can move around? Good luck.) In a civil war, you pick sides and fight. There might be a behind the lines, if your technology is based on star gates of some sort. Otherwise, anyone might could sail anywhere, so it becomes a matter of logistics.

You cannot conquer a planet. You can control the government of it and control orbital space, but even a million soldiers could not keep three billion people under control if they got rowdy. So you isolate a place. Maybe killer satellites in orbit. Something. Same goes for plague. Keep everyone isolated.

But can a species with star drives actually die out? Or is that measured over hundreds of thousands of years? Maybe they speciate? Homo Sapiens turns into Homo Stellaris? But you haven’t died out, you’ve just changed.

The Ovanii are not dead, but they were a single tribe of roughly 20 million people, all mobile in a single vast fleet of ships moving in caravan. They were broken by the Anndaing and interred on a single rock, when they refused to assimilate into Anndaing culture. So they fell from the stars and became barbarians. From there, they might eventually die out, although they had not by the time Daniel causes Rence and crew to look.

In the Brannon stories I am currently sending out to my Patreon folk, she has encountered a technological goddess who has lived inside this mountain for 30,000 years, and seen the planet become abandoned TWICE. (The first story is entitled “Previously Inhabited” to give you a clue.)

We talk about the first surge of exploration in our science fiction. Going out there and seeing what there is. Boldly going, as it were. But I have always been fascinated by the second rise. Or the fifth.

What happens when you go places and find humans who are just your long-lost cousins, going back to a time when these two worlds were part of a star empire of some sort? Or better, when you encounter some elder species who knew humans in the old days and welcomes you back?

How big is your science fiction? Does it have space for things to be lost in ancient times and found again?

Where will you go?

3 thoughts on “Does an Interstellar Species go extinct?

  1. Larry T Vaughn

    Fascinating question. Years ago (when I had an inquisitive daughter moving into her inquisitive years and before boys entered the picture) I acquired the 4 volume set of “How things work” which we ended up using the hell out of and I still refer to periodically for my own amusement. I’ve often wondered how, if/when everything fell apart this could be a foundation for a slow but steady re-emergence from a technological collapse. Out of print for years and probably superceded by more modern versions, here is a link to acquiring used copies if you’re interested.

  2. Caroline Wolfram

    One of my favorite sci fi authors, Isaac Asimov – maybe you’ve heard of him 😉 did a whole series on the collapse of civilization and how to survive it. (You know what I’m talking about, I have no doubt) I found it fascinating as an adaption of sorts of the slow collapse of the Roman Empire and the trek back to civilization over 1000 years or so…the manuscripts copied and preserved by monks went a long way to ensure an eventual Renaissance.
    I wonder if all larger (human) civilizations are doomed eventually…but whether the species dies out, that is another question. Its interesting that each successive dominant society assumes they are ‘the chosen ones’ while blissfully assuming the ‘perfect’ society they are creating will last forever – forgetting the historical evidence of the contrary. 😉

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