Development levels rather than tech levels (segué into soft-tech robofac factories)


Note that the Internet Speculative Fiction Database lists books that a huge number of SF stories have appeared in, and appears to be kept up to date. You might be able to find a book that contains it.


I don’t personally see that as necessary. I’ve written multiple GURPS tech books; I take it for granted that “TLN” defines a range within a continuum. I don’t know how other readers might take it. Probably that sort of explanation better fits a longer document where you can explain rationales.


Personally I like powersats and rectennas. Do they work in your setting?


Frankly, I’ve never given any real thought to power generation — ForeSight had fusion generators and that was good enough. For all the redundant SF that I have produced where readers questioned me, Flat Black is really a “power comes form power sockets” sci-fi kind of setting.


May I coin an aphorism?

In SF, power comes from power satellites through microwave rectennas and a low-voltage superconducting electrical grid. In sci-fi, power comes from power sockets.


I don’t have an immediate solution to recommend, but I can offer a diagnosis. You wrote, “Agriculture is primitive, with few or no high-tech crops—people kill and eat plants and animals that were introduced for terraformation and not for agriculture.” The latter part of the sentence seems, from what you say, to be making two points: first, that this is a praxis that treats plants and animals as consumables rather than durables, but second, that the lifeforms in question were not specifically designed for high yields or easy harvesting. It’s hard to make two distinct points in a single sentence; most readers will assume that one or the other was what you were focusing on. And the former part of the sentence emphasizes the kinds of crops, which inclines the reader to focus on the second issue rather than the first. I can tell you, for example, that I said, in effect, “Well, of course they kill the animals before they eat them.”

Another point is that you may be overestimating the first issue. Sherratt’s studies of the Bronze Age in the Eastern Mediterranean talk about the “secondary products revolution,” in which animals came to be used not only for meat, but for milk, fiber, and traction; that was quite early on (though if you define DL1 as “Neolithic” that would be before the secondary products revolution). There is also “each man shall sit under his own vine and his own fig tree,” which points to early development of vineyards and orchards as food sources. You don’t need genetic engineering to get perennial yields (unless you count rule-of-thumb selective breeding as genetic engineering). These are more questions of nuance than of basic principle, but I’d like to be clearer on exactly what your assumptions are.


I’m worried about over-loading this subsection, which is supposed to be nothing more than an indication of the range of wealth and development of the several colonies.

I think the solution is that I ought to put the chapter on Technology (when I write it) before the chapter on Colonies. Then I’ll explain about solar-powered wet-nanotech chemical-and-materials factories (perennial crop plants) and self-servicing soft-tech robot combine-harvesters (livestock) before I describe the places that they aren’t in use.

As for nuance, I don’t wish to imply that people in TL1 hell-holes reply entirely on eating seeds and the storage roots/stems of annuals and plants that they kill to harvest them. Nor that they rely entirely on slaughtering game and livestock to get fat and protein, hides and horn. I want to imply that their doing this at all (well, on any significant scale) is unusual.


Here is a treat for everybody who has been reading along so patiently: a portrait of David Ricardo:


For what it’s worth, a lot of questions I ask are not intended to be recommendations for things you should discuss, but test cases. In effect, I’m asking, “Does this occur at DLN or not, and does your description lead the player to reach the right conclusion most of the time?” I’m trying to help make sure that no one hands you a plucked chicken and tells you “This is your man!”


Thank you, it is very helpful.

It try to answer the substantive questions without coming across as defensive, but sometimes err on the side of brevity. I’m sorry if that leaves you feeling that you have grasped a nettle.


Wait a minute. You’re supposing that in a future where the typical level of economic development is just a bit ahead of the current American or Australian level, raising and butchering animals to get meat (and leather, I suppose?) is so rare as to be nearly unheard of? I think I would need to see the economic analysis that supports this. Or is it a matter not of economic necessity but of cultural assumptions?


Important point. The level of economic development is only a little ahead of the current USA, but the level of technology is far in advance. They do it that way because they have a legacy¹ of designer crops and designer livestock that provide better products cheaper from perennial para-plants and para-animals that can be harvested without killing them. Para-cows gestate a large rib-eye and deliver it three times per year. Para-geese lay daily eggs of fatty liver tissue. Para-bucks show up for a half-annual muster at which a layer of ready-tanned fine leather can be peeled off without hurting them, and without requiring that their replacements be bred.

Gourmets on Tau Ceti still eat seeds, animal flesh, and whole live radishes. Tau Cetians are gross.

¹ From DL8 Old Earth, from their TL8 pioneering ancestors, or from Simanta.


Ugh! Comparing this text with the table in my original post and the sources, I see that my description of DL5 matches TL4.5, DL6 reads like TL5, and I need to give more thought to DL6 and DL7.



Down to 966 words!

Level of economic development

Development level 1

On the ten poorest colonies (Dirawong, Rebirth, Surikate, Leviathan, Goodhope, Bohemia, Serengeti, Luoyang, Haudenosaunee, and Oberon) the local manufacturing struggles to produce anything more sophisticated than Iron Age tech. There is no infrastructure to speak of, no permanent settlements larger than a few thousand occupants, almost no workshops larger or more specialised than a village smithy. Agriculture is primitive, often depending on annual crops and livestock that have to be killed to produce meat and hides.

These worlds can’t practically export anything at any price. Their few critical high-tech imports, reserved to the powerful, are brought in by foreign visitors and interstellar aid programs or paid for with their cash.

Development level 2

About 125 worlds, with a combined total of about 73 billion population, use the production methods of the classical empires and of mediaeval times. They have high-biotech crops, either as a legacy from Old Earth or introduced recently, but there are no power networks or reticulated water supplies. Cellular communications are confined to the cities and busy travel routes; between them satellite communications are reserved to the privileged.

These worlds have enough bridges, roads, and ports, and sufficiently robust institutions, that they can export precious minerals and premium agricultural products—but development aid is still a critical source of foreign exchange. Imports are precious and used sparingly, even mid-tech ones from neighbours with middling development, such as smart phones.

Development level 3

About 100 worlds, home to 72 billion people, use pre-industrial production methods like those of Renaissance and Enlightenment workshops. Reticulated sewers, water supplies, power supplies, and communications are confined to wealthy areas. Cellular comms are widespread but have regional gaps.

These worlds usually export enough minerals and high-biotech agricultural products, some of them improved by handicrafts, that imported gadgets and equipment are not rarities, though few firms or households can afford to use imports in more than limited key applications. Ordinary people use a makeshift-looking combination of high tech imports and local basics, such as an electric impeller on a wooden boat, or an autophysician in an adobe clinic.

Development level 4

About 100 primary colonies, home to 88 billion people, are at least partly industrialised. They use production methods of the Industrial Revolution (DL4.0) and assembly lines (DL4.5) to assemble cast, stamped, machined, and imported parts. Some factories process agricultural and mineral products for domestic consumption and as value-added exports. Others assemble imported subassemblies from multiple specialised sources for sale and re-export as high-tech products. These economies also produce mechanical and electrical components.

Cities here have reticulated water supplies, energy grids, and sewers. At DL4.5 towns do. Cellular communications cover all but remote rural areas. There may be a global information network, but not universal access.

Over 200 new worlds in the fringe (home to a total of 37 billion) are at a roughly similar level of development, though their economies are oriented to clearing land to establish plantations. Immigrants and investors supply most of their foreign exchange.

Development level 5

About 330 primary colonies, home to 65 billion people, use methods based on printing (such as photolithography) to mass-produce such things as microchips and printed microcircuits. They are the primary source of electronic components in the interstellar economy. These worlds have data networks and grid power supplies reaching every home, ubiquitous high-speed cellular data. Many combine materials from lower-tech worlds and components from higher-tech ones to produce typical consumer products and traded subassemblies of the interstellar economy.

About 110 new worlds in the fringe, home to 44 billion people, have reached a comparable level of development. They are industrialising, and starting to replace sources in the Core and Periphery as suppliers of consumer products to the Fringe. They are also starting to attract migrants less inclined to rural pioneering.

Development level 6

About 120 primary colonies and forty new worlds, home to 180 billion people, use industrial methods based on sophisticated microscale extrusion (“3D printing”, “tissue printing”), etching and so forth to produce photonic devices and microstructured materials, including tissues and organs.

Development level six is the median by population. Colonies more developed than this are seen as rich, those less so than this as poor. The full range of consumer products is in ordinary use, but poor and frugal people do prefer some cheaper mid-tech alternatives.

Development level 7

Fifty-odd primary colonies and the five most successful new colonies use industrial methods based on nanomachining and molecular biology to assemble cells, organelles, nanocomposites and smart materials. The involvement of human workers in such economies is abstruse, as IT replaces much cognitive work and the specialisation of capital rather than that of skilled labour becomes critical. Many jobs on these worlds seem abstract and frivolous to the materially deprived denizens of less developed economies.

Development level 8

Fewer than twenty worlds—none of them in the Fringe, perhaps three in the Periphery—use industrial processes under exotic conditions, atomic epitaxy etc. to make such things as optical phased array emitters, quantum computers, long fullerene strands, small amounts of antimatter…. These worlds export the critical components of high-tech devices for the wider economy, and import lower-tech products and fully assembled devices for consumption.

DL8.0 is what Earth achieved before its destruction. Six worlds in the Core (Aeneas, Iter, Seeonee, Simanta, Tau Ceti, and Todos Santos) have taken advantage of interstellar trade to achieve economies of scale and specialisation allowing DL8.5. They manufacture commercially products that were seen on Earth only as experimental demonstrations, if at all. Pundits call this group “the Suite”, and analyse its members as sectors of a single more highly-developed economy. Some analyse the Empire as the transport sector of the Suite.


Here’s that table from the first post with the gaps filled in.

Development level things are made by GURPS TL GURPS description
0 Palaeolithic generalists TL 0 (early) Stone Age
0.5 Neolithic experts TL 0 (mature) Stone Age
1 Bronze Age village tradesmen TL 1 Bronze Age
1.5 Iron Age municipal craftsmen TL 2 (early) Iron Age
2 Classical urban workshops TL 2 (advanced) Iron Age
2.5 Mediaeval craft guilds & putting-out TL 3 Medieval
3 Renaissance manual factories TL 4 (early) Age of Sail
3.5 Enlightenment factories with jigs and hand machines TL 4 (advanced) Age of Sail
4 Industrial Revolution mills TL 5 Industrial Revolution
4.5 Industrial Age assembly lines TL 6 Mechanized Age
5 Electronics Age circuit printing TL 7 Nuclear Age
5.5 Communications Age chip fabs TL 8 Digital Age
6 Photonic Age photolithographic layering TL 9 (early) Microtech Age
6.5 Biofab Age tissue printing TL 9 (mature) Microtech Age
7 Micromachining stereotype jigs TL 9 (advanced) Microtech Age
7.5 Biomolecular autofacs TL 10 (delayed) Robotic Age
8 Manufacture under exotic conditions TL 10 (standard) Robotic Age
8.5 The Suite TL 10 (advanced) Robotic Age

I’m pleased with my work on this section. I suppose the British will be horrified.


I may be harping on the same thing and not getting the point. I can see that DL1 has very little Stuff. But why don’t they have cities? “Because they’d all die of the terrible hygiene” didn’t stop London.

At the very least this seems to imply a world desperately poor in resources that can’t manage to get itself going by autarky, as Earth after all did. Or at least it’s like that for some reason: it’s been recently settled; it doesn’t have enough people; it has a government that wants its people unproductive and poor (which seems irrational enough that I tend to think that it’s run by fanatics, whether nominally religious or otherwise).


I guess each might have its own reason: extremely low maximum population density in relation to transport technology on this world, oases too small on that world, society divided into mutually hostile tribes on that one.

But if you look at it backwards it comes down to one thing. If they did have cities—if they could assemble the food and water supplies, if they could pacify a large enough group to settle something the size of, say, Alesia—then they would quickly become DL3. Cities create opportunities for specialisation and exchange, populous markets of consumers allow economies of scale. In this setting you don’t have to wait on invention or even R&D. It is scale and not technology that determines DL.


In that case I think my quibbles would be satisfied with a note along the lines of “this isn’t a state that human populations stay in, given a choice; some consideration, environmental or human, is keeping them there”.


What about this?

On the ten poorest colonies (Dirawong, Rebirth, Surikate, Leviathan, Goodhope, Bohemia, Serengeti, Luoyang, Haudenosaunee, and Oberon) various social and ecological lacks and failings make settlements larger than a few thousand occupants impractical. Agriculture is primitive, usually depending on annual crops and livestock that has to be killed to produce meat and hides, or on nomadism. There are no workshops larger or more specialised than a village smithy, no infrastructure to speak of. The local manufacturing struggles to produce anything more sophisticated than Iron Age tech.


Sure, that works for me.

Working out what’s wrong with a planet like this, and trying to fix it, seems as though it might be broadly consonant with the planetary romance ethos: maybe engineering a better source of dietary selenium isn’t the sort of thing PCs do, but overthrowing repressive governments certainly is.