‘The Time Wanderers’ by Arkady Strugatsky and Boris Strugatsky

DEPESHA presents a never before translated into English excerpt from the 1985 novella “The Time Wanderers” by Arkady Strugatsky and Boris Strugatsky, considered the best of Russian Science Fiction writers.

 

‘The Time Wanderers’ by Arkady Strugatsky and Boris Strugatsky

(excerpt)

To: Maxim Kammerer,
COMCON-2,
Sector Urals-North,
Personal and Official

Date: 3 June 94

Author: I. Bromberg, senior consultant to COMCON-1, Doctor of History, laureate of the Herodotus Prize (63, 69, and 72), laureate of the Jan Amos Komensky Minor Prize (57), Doctor of Xenopsychology, Doctor of Social Topology, a member of Academy of Sociology (Europe), a corresponding member of Laboratorium (Academy of Sciences) of the Great Tagora, a Master of Realization of Abstractions of Percival

Case: 009 Old Lady’s Visit

Contents: A preliminary model of the Wanderers’ Progressorship within the human race

Dear Kammerer,

Please don’t think that the official heading above is an old man’s way of sticking it to you. I simply wanted to emphasize that this letter, while personal, is also quite official. I remember the header structure of your reports ever since our poor Sikorski threw them on the table in front of me as (quite pitiful) supporting argumentation.

My attitude toward your organization has not changed a bit; I never made a secret out of it, and I am sure you know it well. However, I carefully studied the materials you sent over. Thank you. I would like to assure you that in this aspect of your work (but only in this one!) you would find me an eager supporter and collaborator.

I don’t know if this is a coincidence, but I received your compendium of models just as I was getting ready to write up the results of my many years of reflection on the nature of the Wanderers and the inevitability of their collision with the civilization of Earth. Although in my opinion, there is no such thing as coincidence; the issue is simply ready to be discussed.

I have neither time nor desire to offer a detailed critique of you document. I can only tell you that the Octopus and Conquistador models were so primitive that they made me laugh hysterically; meanwhile, the New Air model, while not completely trivial, is completely void of any sort of serious argumentation. Eight models! Eighteen developers, including such shining stars as Karibanov, Yasuda, and Mikich! Damn, you could expect something more substantial. Say what you will, Kammerer, but it is only natural to assume that you failed to convey your “concern about our overall lack of preparedness” to the grand masters. They simply sent you a bunch of boilerplate responses.

In this letter, I will present a brief outline of my future book, which I intend to title Monocosmos: The Top or The First Step? Notes on Evolution of Evolution. Once again, I have neither time nor desire to support these postulates with detailed argumentation. I can only assure you that each of these postulates can be extensively supported in the most affirmative way, so if you have any questions, I will be glad to answer them. (By the way, I can’t help but note that seeking my advice has been the first, and so far the only, socially responsible thing your organization did since its foundation.)

So, the Monocosmos.

Any Intelligence, whether technological, Rousseauist, or even heronic, goes through its first-order evolution by moving away from the state of maximum disunity (barbarism, mutual resentment, shallow emotions, mistrust) toward the state of maximum unity possible while maintaining individuality (friendliness, high culture of relationships, altruism, foregoing the achievable). This process is controlled by laws: biological, biosocial, and specifically social. It has been extensively studied and is interesting to us here only because it leads to a question: what’s next? Leaving aside the romantic trills of the vertical progress theory, we discover only two genuine, but very different, possibilities for Intelligence to develop. One is to completely stop, settle down, introspect, and lose interest to the physical world. The other is to commence a second-order evolution, planned and controlled, to move toward Monocosmos.

The synthesis of Intelligence is inevitable. It allows for innumerable new ways to perceive the world, which leads to an enormous increase in the quantity and, more importantly, quality of information available for consumption, which in turn leads to reduction of suffering to a minimum and expansion of joy to a maximum. The concept of “home” expands to include the entire Universe. (This is probably how the irresponsible and superficial term “Wanderers” was coined.) A new metabolism emerges, and as a result, life and health become practically eternal. The age of an individual becomes comparable to that of cosmic objects, while mental fatigue does not accumulate. An individual Monocosmos needs no creators. It is its own creator and a consumer of its own culture. Based on a drop of water, it can deduce not only the existence of the ocean, but also the whole world of beings populating that ocean, including sentient ones. And all that is coupled with an ongoing, never-satisfied sensory hunger.

Each new individual emerges as a work of syncretism; it is created by physiologists, geneticists, engineers, psychologists, aestheticians, educators, and philosophers of Monocosmos. This process, no doubt, takes decades and must be the most honored occupation among the Wanderers. The modern human race knows nothing remotely similar to that art except perhaps the few recorded cases of Great Love.

“Thou shalt create without destruction!” is the slogan of the Monocosmos.

The Monocosmos must believe that its development path and its modus vivendi are the only ones that make sense. It is driven to pain and despair by observing disparate sentient beings not yet mature enough to join it. It is forced to wait until Intelligence completes its first-order evolution and develops into a planet-wide society. For only after that could the alteration of the biostructure begin in order to prepare a carrier of Intelligence for a transition into a Monocosmic organism of a Wanderer. Indeed, the Wanderers’ interference into the affairs of disunited civilizations can lead to no good.

A situation to ponder: the Progressors of Earth strive to speed up the historical process of developing better social structures by troubled civilizations. By doing so, they in fact prepare new sources of material for the future work of the Monocosmos.

We are aware of three civilizations that consider themselves prospering.

Leonidians. A very old civilization (at least three hundred thousand years old, whatever the late Park Khin might have claimed). This is a perfect example of a “slow” civilization; they have frozen in an embrace with their environment.

Tagorans. A civilization of overblown caution. Three quarters of their resources are devoted to studying potentially harmful consequences of discoveries, inventions, technologies, etc. We think it strange only because we are unable to comprehend how exciting it is to prevent harmful consequences, how enjoyable, both intellectually and emotionally, it must be. Keeping progress in check is just as captivating as creating it; everything depends on framing and upbringing. As a result, their transportation is strictly public, there is no aviation of any kind, but the cable communications are very advanced.

The third civilization is ours, and now we understand why the Wanderers must interfere in our life first. We are on the move. We are on the move and therefore may make a mistake in choosing our direction.

Today, no one remembers the “prodders” who tried with fanatic determination to accelerate the progress of Tagorans and Leonidians. By now, everyone understands that prodding these civilizations, perfect in their own ways, is as meaningless as trying to accelerate the growth of a tree, say, an oak, by pulling it up by its branches. The Wanderers are no “prodders”; they don’t and can’t have a goal of accelerating the progress. Their goal is to identify, isolate, prepare for introduction and finally introduce to the Monocosmos the individuals who are fit for it. I do not know on what principles the Wanderers base this selection, and this is too bad, for, whether we want it or not, if we were to speak straight, setting aside beating around the bush and pseudo-scientific terminology, here is the gist of the situation.

First, the human race’s transition into the second-order evolution actually means transformation of Homo sapiens into a Wanderer.

Second, it is highly likely that not every Homo sapiens is fit for such transformation.

Therefore:

• The human race will be divided into two groups of unequal size.
• The human race will be divided into two groups of unequal size according to criteria unknown to us.
• The human race will be divided into two groups of unequal size according to criteria unknown to us, and the smaller group will forcefully and perpetually leave the larger group behind.
• The human race will be divided into two groups of unequal size according to criteria unknown to us, the smaller group will forcefully and perpetually leave the larger group behind, and it will all be accomplished by the will and the art of a decidedly alien super-civilization.

Dear Kammerer! As an exercise in social psychology, please consider analyzing this situation, which is not at all void of originality.

Now that the basics of Monocosmos’ strategy of Progressorship are more or less clear to you, you should be more capable than I to define the counterstrategy and the tactics of detecting the activities of the Wanderers. Clearly, the search, identification, and preparation of individuals fit for introduction cannot proceed without phenomena and events visible to an attentive observer. One could expect, for example, the appearance of mass phobias or new teachings of messianic nature; the emergence of unusual abilities in people; unexplained disappearances of people; unexpected, as if by magic, discoveries of new talents in people, etc. I would also highly recommend to keep an eye on Tagorans and Bigheads accredited on Earth; their sensitivity to the alien and unknown is far greater than ours. (Along the same lines, you should also monitor the behavior of the Earth animals, especially herding ones and ones that possess the beginnings of intelligence.)

Needless to say, your attention should span not only over the Earth, but also the Solar system, the Periphery, and especially the young Periphery.

Wishing you every success, yours truly, I. Bromberg.

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