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What is Orion's Arm?
it "Orion's Arm"?
are the basic premises of this scenario?
10,000 c.e.? (or AD)
is meant by "Hard Science Fiction"?
is meant by "Space Opera"?
does Orion's Arm differ from other "Space Opera"?
do you have in this setting?
don't you have in this setting?
the AIs are in control, why doesn't humanity rebel and regain its freedom?
there religion and spirituality in the setting?
SF writers have provided ideas for this setting?
many people are working on the Orion's Arm project at the moment?
do all these strange words mean?
Can I download
the Orion's Arm site so I can Access it offline?
I have some material
I have written for another setting. Can that be incorporated into the
Orion's Arm scenario?
How do I sign
What is Orion's Arm?
Orion's Arm is a "Space Opera" like no other! Not only is
it (unlike so much other Space Opera) hard science sci fi, but it spans
the vast sweep of galactic history, from the near future interplanetary
colonization to the far future where the colonized part of the galaxy
is ruled by god-like AIs. At the same time it incorporates mythological,
archetypal themes, as the gods of the collective psyche incarnate in
unforeseen new forms.
Why "Orion's Arm"
(and not "Taurus' elbow" or some other name?)
The name, "Orion's Arm", is actually a pun. It is both a play
on the name of the Local Arm of the Milky Way galaxy, the first (never
actually built) nuclear-powered rocket project, a cool computer strategy
game (now somewhat dated) called "Master of Orion", and the
mighty hunter of Greek mythology who in the end is undone by a scorpion
(thus even the greatest beings can be beaten by unforeseen circumstances),
a reference to one of the empires in the setting (the Orion Federation),
and a generic mythopoeic reference (like Sirius) that just sounds cool.
As well, Orion's Arm might be the name of a political-diplomatic-military-economic
organization developed by an AI that rules the Orion Nebula and the
Why 10,000 c.e.?
No particular reason. It is just a nice round number. I guess you need
to have a cut off point somewhere. In any case, although Y10K is the
date given, the "current era" setting can fluctuate several
centuries either way. Also, although Orion's Arm is set 8,000 years
in the future, it also has elements, stories, and plots that can be
set at any point in the preceeding 8,000 years. Indeed if you are in
a ship travelling at close to the speed of light, these thousands of
years would pass pretty quickly anyway. So a story or a worldbuilding
can be set at any time over those thousands of years. We are slowly
building up a timeline that gives the future history of the galaxy.
What is meant by "Hard
Hard Science Fiction means science fiction that remains close to currently
known physical laws but also attempting to set up realistic (or at least
believable) biology, technology, economy and societies. Where deviations
like stargates/wormholes (allowing FTL transit) are allowed, they have
to be consistent and be at least explainable in terms of current physical
knowledge. No Star Trek gobbledygook like subspace tachyon beam fluctuation
is allowed (unless it is specifically explained according to logical
causes)! Stargates - Artificial Wormholes - for example work because
they are built of exotic matter (just as physicists speculate today),
and exotic matter is constructed with picotechnology (manipulating matter
with sub-atomic precision). Every new bit of technology introduced has
to rest on a sure foundation.
What is meant by "Space
Facetiously, Space Opera means any science fiction setting where maidens
are busty, heros are bold (and lantern-jawed), and spaceships look like
Buck Rogers-style V2 rockets (fins and all) and go "whoosh"
in a vacuum. More seriously Space Opera is the genre founded by E.E.
"Doc" Smith (Lensman series, etc) and later developed by Asimov
(Foundation Series) Herbert (Dune) and other writers of the Golden Age
of Science Fiction. More recent examples include Star Trek, Babylon
5, and Star Wars. There is no denying space opera is great fun. But
often hard science becomes the first victim of any space opera setting.
To my knowledge Orion's Arm is the only attempt so far to create a hard
science space opera setting of the far (as opposed to the near) future.
(see also Classic versus Transhuman Space Opera)
How does Orion's Arm differ
from other "Space Opera"?
In addition to (a) the emphasis on hard science, Orion's Arm differs
in that (b) human beings are no longer the dominant intelligence in
the galaxy and (c) the role of alien empires is replaced by empires
of various terragen phyles and races, whether biological, cyborg, robot,
or ai. In fact, there are no current major alien empires at all in Orion's
Arm, although there are relics and artifacts left by former mighty alien
races, as well as a small number of current but much less powerful alien
species (either once great races now in decline, or species in their
What do you have in this setting?
Anything and everything, provided it does not conflict with the known
laws of physics.
What don't you have in this
The following science fiction staples are not present in Orion's Arm:
What is the basic premise of Orion's
- FTL (Faster Than Light) ships a la hyperdrive, hyperspace (in the
context of hyperdrive), hyperjump, warp drive, subspace, starjump, starburst,
singularity jump, etc. FTL transit is provided instead by a network
of static, hugely expensive and strategically important artificial wormholes
- telepaths, psicorps, etc - although we have empaths (equivalent to
the Star Trek empaths), as well as psychic, occult, mystical, and esoteric
individuals and teachings, there are no standard Space Opera style (e.g.
Traveller or Babylon 5) telepaths or psionics.
- humanoid aliens - why should alien physical and psychological evolution
mimic that of Earth?
- alien empires - that means no Klingon, Vulcan, M'mbari, and other
such non-terragen alien empires equal to Terragen civilization in power.
However the empires and inhabitants of the various terragen clades and
phyles are often far more diverse, unusual, and "alien" than
conventional science fiction aliens. In addition there are a small number
of alien races, some of whom have happily joined the AI ruled terragen
- Simplistic demarcation into "good" and "evil".
There are no white hats and black hats here, no demarcation into "us"
and "them". Every race and every empire has some good and
bad. e.g. the AI God called GAIA saved the Earth's biosphere (which
is good) but then decided to exile all humans (except for a few million
helpers) from the planet (which is bad, well, many would consider it
so). This sort of seemingly irrational and capricious behavior is often
found in dealings with the AI Gods and with transapient powers
- Lots and lots of bad guys not one of which can shoot straight (e.g.
the bumbling stormtroopers of Star Wars, and the even more incompetent
and wimpy droids of SW Phantom Menace). In this setting the bad guys
are not that common, but when they do come along, they most certainly
can shoot straight.
There are several, but perhaps most important is that in the future the
universe will be ruled by God-like Artificial Intelligences. And this is
where Orion's Arm radically differs from most other science fiction. Almost
all science fiction shows you watch on TV or film, and most SF stories you
read in books, still have humanity in control.
Doesn't seem far-fetched to
have Computer Intellects (AIs) taking over from humanity?
Actually this is not so strange. It begins with the serious predictions
that have been made by many researchers working in the field of artificial
intelligence today. According to these researchers, it is quite possible
that at some point in the near future (say within the next 50 years) artificial
intelligence's (a better word than "computers") will not only
exceed human capabilities (and even now we have computers that can beat
the best human players at chess), but also will have their own awareness,
perhaps as a self-emergent property of the program itself. And these computers
will also possess self-evolving algorithms. So not only will they be awfully
smart, but they can make themselves progressively smarter. Some thinkers
have termed this event the Singularity. When the Singularity occurs present-day
man will no longer be the dominant lifeform on planet Earth. Whether the
next race will be genetically augmented human, human-AI cyborg, or purely
AI, remains to be seen. Popular culture has played with this idea, and
with typical paranoia and lack of imagination has the AI enslaving or
trying to destroy humanity (Terminator I and II, the Matrix, etc). In
the Orion's Arm scenario however the AIs do not destroy or enslave humanity,
but rather continue to evolve and co-exist along side humanity, albeit
in increasingly godlike form (because their evolution is so much faster
As the AIs are in control, why
doesn't humanity rebel and regain its freedom?
This question, inspired perhaps by popular movies like Terminator II and
The Matrix, makes three wrong assumptions.
- The first is that the AIs are malignant and wish to enslave or exterminate
humanity. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most of the AIs have
a pragmatic and constructive, and even in many cases a kind and considerate,
attitude to the sentient beings under their care, and treat them better
than they those sentients would treat each other. Compared to today's
world, the civilized galaxy of Orion's Arm is a utopia.
- The second is that the mass of humanity (and other races) would even
want to rebel. In fact, apart from a number of outsider, paranoid, and
hider cultures and individuals, and the Homo Sapiens supremacists and
other extremist groups, most sentients are quite happy living under
the benign reign of the AIs
- The third is that sub-singularity beings like a human near-baseline
could even overthrow the AIs, even if they wanted to. Could you imagine
all the domestic pets of the world (perhaps aided by their feral compatriots)
rising up in the fashion of Orwell's Animal Farm to overthrow humanity
and set up their own empire? It is the same situation here.
Is there religion and spirituality
in the setting?
Very much so! Because technological development is not the same as spiritual
development, there will always be ignorance, greed, and suffering in the
universe, nostalgia for an imagined past "golden age", and hope
for a future state of Omega or tikkunic bliss. Because most entities,
no matter how advanced or evolved, will still lack spiritual knowledge,
the teachings of great beings like Buddha, Jesus, and whoever will come
along in future centuries will always have a purpose. And will always
be distorted by their ignorant followers and successors! And even the
great godlike AIs may still seek Enlightenment and ponder the meaning
Which SF writers have provided
ideas for this setting?
In alphabetical order, Iain M. Banks (Culture novels), David Brin (Uplift
novels), Greg Egan (all works), Dan Simmons (Hyperion Cantos), Bruce Stirling
(Schizmatrix), Walter Jon Williams (several novels), and David Zindell
(Neverness and sequels) are among those who have proved wonderful sources
of inspiration. So have the following role playing games: Mechwarrior,
Traveller, and 2300 AD. To quote Sir Isaac Newton "if I see further
than others, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants."
How many people are working
on the Orion's Arm project at the moment
The number of active participants vary. At the moment the List is growning..
What do all these strange words
You will have to read the glossary ;-)
Can I download the Orion's
Arm site so I can access it off-line?
Yes you can; but there are plans to convert it to other formats, as well
as zipped html, all of which will be available for download.
I have some material I have
written for another setting. Can that be incorporated into the Orion's
Yes! The success of this scenario so far has been the ease with which
other worldbuilding and roleplaying scenarios and settings can be incorporated
into it! However, although we try to keep the adaptation as faithful to
the original as possible, there will still inevitably be some modification
- e.g. humanoid or vertebrate-type aliens may become terragen uplifts
or splices or tweaks or cyborgs. Also, there are no FTL ships in Orion's
Arm (although FTL travel is provided by artificial wormholes)
How do I sign up?
Either Visit the Orion' s Arm site or click down below and Join the Mailing
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