Too Like the Lightning: intricate worldbuilding, brilliant speculation, gripping storytelling


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People went to war over religion, and then one day decided to just not have any any more? I’m not sure how that works. That’s not how the Thirty Years’ War worked out, at least. Maybe those were primitive people in a dark time.


Are wars started over religion or just fought over religion? My guess is that many wars are started for other reasons, but religion is exploited to get people to fight in them.

Not many are going to be willing to die if we told them Haliburton wanted more money… but if “those people” want to “destroy our way of life” because of religion… well, look out!


This sounds promising. It also sounds like the very mention will make certain puppies sad, but that’s merely schadenfreude on the pie.

And, rather self-evidently, I’m an Alfred Bester fan. The flying cars sound a lot like the ones in The Demolished Man, the world-building of which was simply superb.

On the Summer reading list!


This is a topic I wished were explored more in fiction. We take it at face value that ideology or material resources always have been and always will be the casus belli. I’m personally unconvinced even money is the root cause of war. Ask any economist and they’ll tell you that it’s easier to profit and sustain profit in peacetime. Peacetime profits can grow. Wartime profits are a rationed pie. That’s one of the few things Hayek got right in his disagreements with his friend Keynes. War can kickstart a few specific production sectors when they’re slowing down, but destroying things isn’t a recipe for increasing overall wealth. I think there might be deeper psychological reasons why human beings go to war, with religion the excuse and profiteering the economic grease for the costly war machine.

But that also begs the question of what can happen if machines can be made to self-reproduce the way life does. Earth’s greatest mass extinction in terms of sheer biomass was the Oxygen Holocaust of anerobic microbes by cyanobacteria. When cannibalization becomes a viable means of creating new wealth by spreading patterns to matter already in use by other patterns, the distinction between destruction and creation might become dangerously blurred. Forget Gray Goo; fear the Haliburton Goo!


this WOULD make an interesting read… I have to imagine there are some good books out there that do just that. Hopefully, some others will chime in with recommendations.


I’ve explored it extensively in my own fictional worlds, hence the thoughts I have on it, but those are for my exclusive enjoyment as I do not wish my storytelling to jeopardize my chance to be taken seriously as a physicist before I’ve made my scientific reputation.

I too would love to know who else has tackled this topic. There’s a number of stories about von Neumann type conflicts (Greg Bear’s The Forge of God and The Anvil of Stars are great examples), but I know of no published works that seriously delve into the implications for human-scale economies and conflict. I feel like there’s a huge unexplored phase space for econ fiction. The few examples I’ve seen over the past couple decades have either been small-L libertarian fiction (which is fine, but a bit predictable and unrealistic IMHO) or semi-utopian fiction such as Cory’s own Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. I would love to see more
economists writing SF.


At one time, when rulers claimed to rule “by Divine Right”, it wasn’t possible to attack the state on anything but religious ground; “You might rule by divine right, but your’s is not the TRUE religion! And you case isn’t helped by you being a total bastard and failing to make me in to a Baron when I deserve it! Death to the False King!”


I think it is fair to say that for much of the past, religion, money, power were interchangeable.

Before the Hussite revolution and the consequent 5 Papal crusades and civil war - the church owned a quarter of all the land in Bohemia. This was also the time of the 3 popes, each claiming to be legitimate and needing to pay military bills, - hence higher church tithes on the poor and the sale of indulgences to forgive the sins of the rich. When some intellectuals, priests, scholars pointed out the hypocrisy of this as well as not teaching the Bible in the vernacular but rather in Latin (which you could control) they were labeled heretics by Rome. People may have been primitive, but I think they could see the hypocrisy of a corrupt church especially when exposed to the mass media of the day - sermons, speeches by reformer priests even songs and hymns.


I believe that CD has gone on record as saying that’s a dystopian novel that is generally misunderstood. I thought it was here in BB, but I cannae find it in his welter. okay, found.

I’m mis-quoting - or running off with an implication, anyway:

Meritocracy and reputation economics were the subject of my debut novel, 2003’s Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, which, ironically, is often held up as an example of “utopian” fiction.

BB article points to this Locus article with more detail.


I too recalled his post of that. That’s why I decided to include the semi- prefix. It’s utopian in the broader sense of most of today’s immediate problems being things of the past in the story, but it’s socially dystopian in the sense that they have new problems (or more specifically that other problems have come to the forefront). That’s of course a matter of semantics and how we use language, and there’s no reason why Cory’s interpretation of his work should necessarily match how I read it.

I actually think the utopian/dystopian dichotomy is too simplistic for most of the fiction it’s applied to, since realistic worlds are messy affairs.



The premise that I find harder to believe is the ability to abolish something like 4+ people gathered to discuss religion in a world where space travel is possible. Maybe the author handles that somehow.


Exactly. How intense would surveillance have to be, to catch and punish everybody who talked about God?

@GulliverFoyle What is Krugman doing in there? Did he burn something down?


Honestly, the big players like Halliburton have realized that war isn’t profitable.

Blowing stuff up overseas is great though.

It’s not really war. Most of us in First World don’t really suffer for it. Afterwards (or during, as it the case these days), the Big Boys can rebuild, restructure, reform…all in places where it’s too destabilized to have real oversight and $80 billion can easily go “missing” in the general fray.



“By creating a little destruction…”

I love this scene from The Fifth Element - similar theme I think:


That’s a great seen. I’d forgotten about it. Of course they cut off the best part of the scene that comes next.

It’s a moderately old idea in economics.


I think you are getting “Creative Destruction” mixed up with “the Broken Window Fallacy”. The broken window fallacy is what we are talking about: that you can create economic activity by running around throwing rocks through windows, causing people to buy glass and hire workers. Economists call this a fallacy because it is not really productive.

Creative destruction is something different. It is when existing products and industries are superseded by better systems and inventions. Old companies and products go out of business. This is a good thing. If someone invented ballistic supersonic flying cars, as in the stories, billions, trillions of dollars invested in roads, bridges, automobiles, trains, jet plains would all be worthless. You would think it would be more economical to subsidize these older systems of transportation until you got your investment back (and the incumbent players would tell you it made sense) but in reality, it would be less of a waste to “destroy” or abandon those industries to favor the new creation.

We are seeing this now in the bankruptcies of various coal industry corporations in favor of fracked natural gas (I wish it was in favor of Solar and Wind, but it is mostly cheap fracked natural gas). People who would be against creative destruction would say, outlaw natural gas and subsidize coal to save jobs in West Virginia and Kentucky. Economists (honest ones anyway) would say it is better to let coal die.


I did indeed misunderstand Schumpeter’s Creative Destruction. Muchas gracias.