Frequently Asked Questions


Questions - Explaining the Setting

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What is meant by "Hard Science Fiction"?

Hard Science Fiction is a genre of science fiction generally characterized by an emphasis on scientific accuracy and detail or on the science and technology within the story having a basis in real world science and technology (realized or theoretical). In some cases this may also extend to maintaining a level of consistency within the science (real or imagined) within the story. Within the context of the Orion's Arm Universe Project this means we try to maintain scientific realism when presenting biology, technology, economies, physics, or societies. This does not mean we are unwilling to extend a bit beyond current capabilities as can be seen with the controversial use of wormholes within the setting.

What happens when history overtakes the OA timeline?

We've given this a lot of thought. The solution within the Orion's Arm Universe Project is to keep the near future (next century) purposefully vague, so as to avoid required edits to match up with the real world. On those rare occasions when reality "catches up" with OA despite our best efforts to stay ahead of it, we are prepared to adjust the setting accordingly.

How does Orion's Arm differ from other forms of "Space Opera"?

There are several ways in which Orion's Arm differs from traditional space opera.

The first is consistency. Very often the need to meet deadlines or create dramatic tension is detrimental to consistency. Because Orion's Arm is also a hard science fiction scenario, we have a built-in defender of consistency. If scientific theory says it takes light 10 days to travel a specific distance in space, then it will take light 10 days to travel that distance. We take great pride in 'running the numbers' to ensure a strict level of internal consistency.

The second major factor is that human beings are no longer the dominant intelligence in the galaxy, and the role of alien empires is replaced by empires of various human descended races and species, whether biological, cyborg, robot, or ai.

Why aren't humans in charge in the setting?

Partly because that particular scenario has been done over and over and over again. We wanted to try something different. Partly because within the last few decades there have been a number of theories regarding other possible ways for the future to play out that we wanted to explore. In the OAUP, we postulate that artificial intelligence — a mind created in a computer — will be part of that future, and that these 'AIs' will expand at rates humans will be unable to compete effectively with.

Please remember, OA is not prophecy and it's not science but science fiction. It's simply one group of people's imagined vision as to how it might turn out.

How does Orion's Arm differ from Transhumanism?

First, the Orion's Arm Universe Project is a work of imagination, and despite incorporating many similar elements, it is not intended as actual prediction or futurism. Second, there is a popular belief among many Transhumanists, Extropians, and Singularitans that the current exponential growth in human knowledge and technology will culminate in a relatively near future radical collective Singularity — the so-called "hard take off" scenario. For the sake of incorporating a long epic time-line, we assume here that this collective transcendence does not eventuate. Of course, no one really knows how the future will turn out so all we can do is speculate.

What is meant by "Pessimistic Transhumanism"?

Conventional transhumanism assumes that optimization and ascension to higher, superhuman states of existence will be the most likely outcome of coming technological advancements in artificial intelligence, nano technology, and biotech, even though this may possibly take some time and result in an intermediate stage in which both humans and posthumans coexist. Within the Orion's Arm Universe Project we present a more pessimistic, but also equally likely, scenario where instead of a mass ascension there will be multiple and partial ascensions, resulting in a stratification of consciousness and power. Those intelligences that have attained the highest states will reign over those beneath them, who in turn will rule over those beneath them, and so on down to the human level of consciousness.

Humans will continue to rule over subhuman consciousnesses — just as today humans dominate animals and nature — but in a far more limited and localized way. It is this essential characteristic that defines the setting of the Orion's Arm universe - a science fiction scenario in which standard "baseline" human beings have been surpassed by other intelligences, some of which are ascended humans themselves. Although ordinary humanity still continues to exist and contribute to galactic civilization, they are no longer the highest form of intelligent life.

What is the OA position on souls, life after death, the existence of God, etc?

The Orion's Arm Universe Project has an official policy of metaphysical neutrality.

This means that while different cultures, groups, and individuals within the setting may be described as holding various beliefs (or no beliefs) regarding spiritual or religious matters the OAUP has no official policy classifying any belief, position, or lack of same as the 'correct' or 'official' position of the setting or any contributions to it. It is the policy of the OAUP that the OA setting is a very diverse one and that no single belief or lack thereof may be described as belonging to the majority of the beings within the setting or as dominating any of the other belief sets described within the setting.

We encourage EG write-ups on physicalism, dualism, souls, (supernatural) God or Gods, or anything else, religious or philosophical, metaphysical or anti-metaphysical, which may be written up as part of the OAUP as long as they do not conflict with this official policy of neutrality or Canon.

What does OA have in the near future?

Very little information is available regarding the next 100 years. This is done intentionally in order to avoid becoming dated as real events "catch up". Beyond that a major catastrophe in the next few hundred years, referred to as the Nanoswarms, causes a great deal of information to be lost. Very few, if any, beings in the OA timeline have access to detailed information on the real-world of the modern day.

What is a "Shared World"?

To quote George Mann in The Mammoth Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (p.508):

"A Shared World is an environment or set of characters created by an author with the specific intention of letting other writers produce work within its framework."

While it is web-based rather than paper-based, Orion's Arm is closest to the original definition quoted above. It is a science fiction universe that is specifically intended to serve as a backdrop for writers, artists, and thinkers interested in describing a far future setting.

What is "The Singularity"?

Central to the Orion's Arm setting is the concept of a technological-cognitive singularity, or rather, a large number of such "singularities", which we have termed toposophics. This theme was inspired by mathematician/writer Vernor Vinge who put forward the idea of the Singularity. Mr. Vinge suggested that within the near future the rate of self-catalyzing, self-organizing, and autonomous (human-independent) technological change will increase to such a stage that it undergoes a "singularity," becoming effectively instantaneous from the perspective of current biological humanity. Events after this point must also be "future-incomprehensible" to existing humanity. This is a concept that has been tremendously influential in the transhumanist movement.

What is "Transhumanism"?

Transhumanism is a realistically optimistic and rationalistic interdisciplinary approach to understanding and evaluating the possibilities for overcoming biological limitations through technological progress. It is based on the assumption that the "human condition" is not a constant, but can be augmented and enhanced, almost without limit. Transhumanists seek to expand technological opportunities in order to enhance human intellectual, physical, and emotional capacities to superhuman levels.

What is "Worldbuilding"?

Worldbuilding is the highly detailed creation of a world, a world that exists on the pages of a book or a role-playing manual, in a computer game, or on the web. It exists in the imagination of its creator, and of anyone who reads or in any other way participates in it. Such a world, although a work of fiction, will have its own history, inhabitants, politics, geography, language, legends, and more, much like our real world does. Depending on the scope it may encompass a single country or an entire galaxy.

Many worlds are fantasy based, some are science fiction, and others might be alternative history. They may be the work of a single individual, as might be expected in the creation of a novel, or a number of people working together. Shared worldbuilding is becoming increasingly common on the Web.

Why the year 10,000?

I guess you need to have a cut off point somewhere. In our case that is 10,000 years after the Sea of Tranquility moon landing. This is why the dates you find here at Orion's Arm are referenced as A.T or After Tranquility. As a contributor you are free to explore any point along these 10,000 years of history although we try to stay at least 100 years past the present in order to keep the scenario from becoming dated. There is so much still undeveloped that it is easy to find a place and make your mark.

Why Orion's Arm?

Orion's Arm is a play on the name of the local arm of the Milky Way galaxy in which our solar system resides. Orion is also the name of the first nuclear-powered rocket project (which was never built), a mighty hunter of Greek mythology, and a generic mytho-poetic reference that just sounds cool.