For those who don’t know, Purple Crypt is a code name for a series I’ve been planning. And just because I have written barely anything in that series doesn’t mean it’s been a static issue. For instance, with the COVID-19 lockdown I’ve been watching a lot of things on Youtube, specifically a series on science futurism. It’s given me a lot to think about.
The issue that has me stuck for the moment is interstellar war. By the time a society is moving easily among the stars there’s more than likely a great deal of automation. You don’t need to fight wars because there aren’t enough dining room tables if there’s an automated factory making them for nearly nothing. There’s also no need to fight for resources like wood (a simple habitat on an asteroid could produce trees of whatever kind) or other materials when they’re so readily available in your own solar system.
Historically, wars have also been fought for slaves. With advanced automation there’s no need for slavery. In the long run a robotic substitute would be cheaper than launching a fleet to another solar system to bring back slaves to make dining room tables.
Wars have also been waged to spread culture. Alexander the Great did more to spread Hellenistic thought than any other conqueror. He was so good at it the Roman Empire after him had the same basis. But did AtG go to war to do that? Probably not. I’m guessing that was a byproduct.
But one thing that Youtube channel seemed to ignore in the basic assumption about interstellar war was ego. I think that was AtG’s motivation to take over the entire world (as he knew it). Control over your neighbor is the cause of a lot of conflict. If it can be done, an egotistical person will want it.
But what if there’s a resource that’s rare enough and needed enough for society they’re willing to go to war to get it? In today’s world rare earth elements are required for photo voltaic solar power. They’re more prevalent in some places on Earth, less so in others. Maybe there’s an element needed to build zero point energy systems.
A hydrogen fuel cell, for instance, uses a membrane with titanium - which costs $1,630/ounce as of this (May 28, 2020) morning. Gold this morning is about $1,743. So a car with a hydrogen fuel cell has something worth almost as much as gold. And keep in mind that membrane will eventually lose its effectiveness and the fuel cell will have to be replaced. If your fuel cell has only an ounce of titanium, swapping it out will cost you a pretty penny. You’ll look back on oil changes with nostalgia.
So if your ZPM requires three hundred grams of Somethingium Oxide, perhaps an interstellar empire could be built on obtaining the rare stellar element of Somethingium. But will you burn up more ZPMs simply getting that element than you’ll obtain in your conquest?
These types of questions need to be answered before I can even begin writing about an interstellar civilization. If I want Purple Crypt to be believable, that is.
Late addition: I didn't know someone had already coined the term "somethingium." Oh, well. There's nothing new under the sun.