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Yet another weird SF fan
 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Technology for Big Planet

There's a moderately-common scenario in SF stories: a planet with a nearly-complete lack of iron and other heavy metals. Examples include: Big Planet by Jack Vance, The Man Who Counts by Poul Anderson, The Riverworld series by Philip José Farmer, Tatja Grimm's World by Vernor Vinge. This lack of metals makes it very difficult to start up a technological civilization.

I've been wondering if it is possible to start up a technological civilization on such a world anyway. For example, I think it might be possible to build Stirling engines out of nonmetals. Electricity might be more difficult but it should be possible to make an electrostatic generator. Graphite is somewhat conductive, so given an electrostatic generator and graphite bus bars it should be possible to make an electrolytic cell. The electrolytic cell, in turn, makes aluminum possible.

In short, it should be possible to have at least a mid-20th-century level of technology.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Vader said...

Not sure how life could be sustained on a planet without metals. They're essential nutrients for living organisms.

5:19 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

'Should' in this context seems a touch strong. We humans took some tens of thousands of years to work out how to make use of iron, and then another couple of thousand to discover aluminium and what to do with it.

I suspect there's a fair bit of chance in these endeavours.

8:29 AM  
Anonymous Stephen Dawson said...

'Unknown' above is me (I refuse to participate in the Internet anonymously, even inadvertently.)

8:31 AM  

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