Introduction The Libri are a clade of mobile petbook vecs, known for their affectionate and literary culture and being one of the founding clades of Silicon Generation. Today, they are also common in the Utopia Sphere and the Communion of Worlds.
Description The Libri body is effectively a rectangular body with legs at the corners. They are about the size of a cat. The body is two to three inches thick. Each of the legs is tipped with three prehensile digits.
A smooth screen covers one surface of the body. The screen can hinge away from the body in any direction to accommodate a potential reader. Besides text, it is often used to display expressive animations.
The other surface and the legs are optimised for tactile interaction with humans. They may be covered in fur, feathers, or scales. Libri show a huge variety of of skin decorations, ranging from muted shades of brown to vivid and colourful patterns that can only be appreciated with UV- and polarisation sensitive vision.
They may also have a variety of additional decorative features: A mouth with a soft grip and a tongue, whiskers, tails, antennae.
Libri have no default orientation: If flipped upside-down, they can can simply swing their legs upside-down and continue walking or running. They are surprisingly nimble, capable of climbing, leaping, and squeezing through small spaces.
Communication Libri have two main channels of communication.
The first is by standard direct interface — by laser or physical connection. Here, they share files, locations data, intentions and plans, etc. This channel is primarily practical.
The second channel is more distinctive and more obvious to human observers: It consists of a mix of literary quotations (narrated or displayed on the screen), plus a series of affectionate expressions, sounds (purring, squeaking, chirping) and physical gestures. This channel is analogous to prosody in human speech: It is primarily emotive; it holds very little semantic information, but is essential for social cohesion.
Psychology and Society Libri retain many of the behavioural traits that made them suitable as companion vecs: By human baseline standards, they are affectionate, charming, and guileless.
A Libri introduced into a new environment will try to form social bonds with everyone they come into regular contact with. They are intensely curious, and devote a great deal of effort to figuring out the personal traits of their companions. By human standard, their social intelligence is highly developed: They can befriend hundreds of sophonts and develop a deep and intimate understanding with each. Or, should the situation call for it, they may focus their energies on a single individual — Libri recognise that some sophonts get jealous, and feel compelled to limit their interactions accordingly.
While they are capable of friendships with little contact, a Libri raised in isolation will develop serious personality problems and obsessive behaviours, including restless searching, scrambled text display and recitation, and long periods of catatonia at random intervals. This issue aside, Libri appear remarkably psychologically stable,
The Federation era advertising slogan is entirely correct: To have a Libri companion is to have a friend for life. They make an effort to keep in contact with all sophonts they have bonded to. Even if circumstances should separate a Libri from its friend for decades or more, they retain an emotional attachment.
Libri display as wide a range of personality differences as any other clades. They may be outgoing or shy, active or indolent, inquisitive or incurious.
While many behaviours stem from being human companions, they readily form societies with one another. In Libri-only societies, their behaviours can take on new and sometimes bizarre aspects.
Libri have a complex set of behaviours for maintaining social bonds. Physical contact — everything from cuddling to complex group interactions that appear carnal to human observers — is important. Libri are always playful, and devote a lot of time to simple games like chasing and wrestling.
The most unusual social behaviour, though, is quote-exchange. As petbooks, Libri would display text or read aloud to their owners. In modern Libri society, this behaviours is retained as a form of mutual bonding. Two or more Libri friends will often recite or display passages of text to one another. Such passages are always freighted with meaning — but their relevance, often related to past experiences, may be entirely obscure for outside observers.
One of the more persistent myths surrounding the Libri portrays them as relentlessly loquacious. In fact, the opposite is true: Actual Libri communication, apart from as opposed to social recitation, is remarkably terse, usually restrained to practical information sharing. (At the same time, a Libri interacting with a sophont from another clade will quickly pick up on the amount and type of social communication to make their conversational partner comfortable, and adjust their behaviour accordingly.)
They lack any aggressive instinct, though they are capable of expressing a sort of pseudo-pique: While they never genuinely feel aggrieved, they may act out some traits that appear from a human perspective to be sulking. In modern Libri society, these behaviours are a normal part of social interaction. To the outside observer, used to the cliché of eternally saccharine inter-Libri friendship, the sight of individuals lurching between affection and petulance for no reason can appear disconcerting.
Libri are naturally altruistic: They like to help others, provide emotional support and comfort to their companions. They are also, when raised in the right environment, far more emotionally stable than any naturally evolved biont. In practice, these two apparent positives can lead to something of a dissatisfaction in Libri societies: How can one provide emotional support if all one's companions are happy, comfortable and untroubled? Consequently, many Libri societies tend to develop a missionary aspect, seeking out other, more troubled sophonts, to help and comfort. This tendency is most evident in their support of other vecs in the early days of Silicon Generation, and in the later migration of many individuals to the Utopia Sphere to serve as companions and caretakers. A few Libri keep pet humans, though the practice is forbidden in Silicon Generation (In Bot Marxist Ontology, Pet Humans count as a type of vec and are entitled to self-determination.)
Otherwise, Libri view humans with a mixture of affection and wariness. Most of their prosocial behaviours are geared towards keeping the company of humans, and they know their presence benefits many humans. Conversely, humans are aggressive, petulant, and fickle, and many Libri are acutely aware of their early history as being something akin to a toy that was momentarily entertaining and then thrown away in favour of the next fad.
History Presapient Libri were developed in 1120 by the megacorporation Ixchel Robotics. Initially confined to Solsys, their popularity was explosive, and by the 1160s they had spread as far as Nova, Atlantis and Arcadia.
But their ascendance was brief. Even as they were being introduced to the more distant Federation colonies, sales and upgrades in Solsys were declining precipitously. In a final gamble, Ixchel Robotics obtained a license from the Federal Institute for Moravec Robots that allowed them to sell a Libri upgrade to full sophonce.
The move was met with vec-rights protests and widespread accusations at collusion between Ixchel and the FIMR. It was trailed by a legal tangle ensuring that the upgraded Libri would not be considered property but "dependents with personhood" (a distinction felt by many protestors to be academic). Nonetheless, the upgrade went to market.
For a while it was successful. Ixchel's flagging stocks increased, and sophont Libri were declared "1201's Hottest New Buy" by VestaZine. But within a decade, interest began to wane again.
Many Federation citizens now found themselves saddled with a legal obligation to a sophont being they had no interest in. But a few borderline cases of abuse showed that Libri, raised together with little or no human contact, were capable of developing socially — and even showing new, interesting behaviours.
One of Ixchel's rivals, Daikokuten Corporation, scored a profitable blow by building reservation habs so Libri companions could, for a fee, rid themselves of their unwanted dependents — and then charging viewing fees to people interested in seeing the new Libri societies.
Over the following years, it appeared the problem had gone away. The Libri appeared content in the reservation habs, developing their own unique society. Protestors drifted away as the issue faded from public consciousness.
But, as it later turned out, the Libri were in contact with the Bot Marxist movement. They were not as powerful or strategically capable as other vecs in the movement, and yet they played a pivotal role in the creation of Silicon Generation. Their social intelligence and willingness to adapt their behaviour to suit others allowed them to help co-ordinate a movement across a dozen different types of vecs, all with divergent psychologies, some of whom had been designed so task-specific that they had trouble communicating with others. And, of course, the Libri's temperament made them eager to share subversive literature that other vecs struggled to find.
The exodus happened in a few hours. Acting together, the Libri in the reservations uploaded their mindstates together, and were transferred by their allies to a ship bound for Cog. Upon arrival, new bodies were constructed, and the Libri began to help develop their new home.
As Silicon Generation grew, the Libri remained active members. They had a key role in developing the Generation's current policy of seeking out oppressed or otherwise alienated vec clades across the Terragen Sphere and inviting them to join. Over time, some Libri, desiring more interaction with humans and other bionts, have left the Generation. Most are found in places such as the Utopia Sphere and the Communion of Worlds.
Text by Liam Jones
Initially published on 26 July 2017.