A Gentle Introduction to The Fall of Earth

“This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang, but a whimper.”

– T.S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men”

Welcome to the end. Allow me to briefly describe the world as it stands at the onset of “Schism,” the first book of my planned series “The Fall of Earth.”

As you may have guessed from the title, the future is not a happy time. Technological progress has slowed, and much of it is centered on keeping us fed and contented. Full immersion virtual reality is common, and the direct manipulation of the brain allows not only all five senses to be recorded, but also the emotional state of the actors (subtly enhanced in editing on most programming). Real food is scarce and expensive, but in the United States government provided nutrient loaf made from vitamin fortified insect and soy protein can be made to feel and taste like anything the eater desires using VR.

Life extension is common among the rich and aspiring rich, but new enough that the first recipients are still with us. The first forays into life extension, known as “Lazarus,” ended in disaster; one in five recipients developed multiple terminal cancers. More recent procedures are safer, but not as effective, and require boosters every few years. Lifespans of two hundred and fifty years are expected.

The United States has survived, more or less. After a tumultuous period of increasingly violent partisan politics, California and Texas have both exited the union. The separation occurred in an orderly fashion, and those with extreme politics were asked to relocate to whichever aligned more closely with their views. After the five year transition period, the United States held a constitutional convention. It resulted in, among other things, a hate speech exception to the first amendment, a “reasonable restriction” clause in the second amendment, and a national popular vote for President.

Much of the population is unemployed, subsisting on a universal basic income and the government provided nutrient loaf. Many more are employed by ostensibly private companies licensed to operate on the national internet, either building virtual spaces or monitoring the users. Network access is necessary for modern life; cash and barter are illegal, and every transaction must take place on the network using the government’s own cryptocurrency. Dissidents and the rural poor still have an elaborate system of barter, the ban is not rigorously enforced.

Automated transportation is common. Most urban and suburban residents travel via electric pods which are summoned on demand, only committed hobbyists drive themselves and they are increasingly viewed as a danger to themselves and others. Law enforcement monitors behavior patterns, assisted by primitive AI that has not yet achieved self-awareness. The pattern recognition has already been used to stamp out the “’76er” movement, a loosely coordinated protest against the most recent constitutional changes.

The United States controls access to space via a network of defense satellites that shoot down any unlicensed spacecraft. China and Russia have an agreement with the U.S., under which their spacecraft may pass unmolested. The Russians have a small moon base which houses a multinational team of scientists, and the Chinese have set up a space station in lunar orbit from which they have launched their first automated asteroid mining missions. The United States focuses mostly on low earth orbit and suborbital transit, Mars remains a dream that is forever twenty years out of reach. Permits for human space travel are difficult to acquire and expensive, with requirements for not only safety but also environmental impact and workforce diversity that must be certified for each flight. In addition to the space defense network, ground based defenses have been developed to protect against the threat of even small drones. “If it flies, it dies.” Unauthorized aircraft near cities are shot down without any warning whatsoever.

The United States military has been completely overhauled. Gone is the branch structure, interservice rivalry is a thing of the past. All service members are now simply “troops,” as opposed to soldiers, Marines, sailors, or airmen. War is mostly a pushbutton affair, and while the infantry is still important they arrive on the battlefield via self-driving vehicles and shoot self-aiming weapons. Elite special operations units run at a punishing optempo, fighting secret, undeclared wars around the world. They alone are trusted to pilot the first generation of power armor, an advancement that allows one man to stand against a hundred, providing that none of the hundred brought anti-tank weapons.

The future is bleak, but it hardly seems like the end of the world. Yet the seeds of our destruction have already been planted. Who, if anyone, will survive the fall of earth?

“Oh a storm is threatening
My very life today
If I don’t get some shelter
Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away.
War, children, it’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away
War, children, it’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away”

– The Rolling Stones, “Gimmie Shelter”

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