It’s the twenty-ninth century and everything in our galaxy has changed.
Most of all, the galactic hierarchy has changed: there are beings superior to humankind that, despite evolving from the human race, are more accomplished and more powerful than humans. Secondly, the beings that have evolved the most are virtually immortal, because they are able to make use of ‘manifestations’, which, in approximate terms, are biological, nanomatic and virtual incarnations, giving them unlimited potential for existence. Thirdly, travelling about the cosmos is no longer a problem, because space is now subject to non-gravitational modelling. Fourthly, power is concentrated in the hands of the creatures gifted with the highest intelligence. So is this the perfect universe?
It’s ideally imperfect, answers Dukaj. This world has been created by humans striving for security, in other words an existence free from fears of death, illness and war. However, instead of an immortal body, these incarnations have been invented, and instead of tolerance and mutual respect there are galactic governments run by the highest intelligence. Reason has proved to be a life force jostling for supremacy, but supremacy is still rooted in biological adaptation. Where have we heard that before?
Yes, of course – Dukaj’s novel is saying the same thing as our contemporary philosophers, which is that genetic experiments will lead to the birth of ‘post-human’ beings. But Dukaj also says that over the next thousand years, humans will have to delve inside the genes and logical structures that make up the mind, because the cosmos –as Darwin taught us – is subject to the law of evolution; those who fail to adapt will perish. So either humans will transform themselves, or else they’ll fall to the rank of slaves. The anti-utopian tone of the novel is increased by the deliberate linking of evolution with money and power. In short, the future belongs to the rich, who will be able to buy themselves wisdom, and to the intelligent, who will know how to climb up the Evolutionary Curve. Meanwhile, a gulf will grow between the feudally organised aristocracy and the democratic rabble, who do not desire things they cannot have, but rather that which the kitsch of the future can supply.
The story is set at the end of the third millennium, but as we can see, Dukaj supplements it with some developments of contemporary themes, including the issue of globalisation, i.e. events we are all constantly surrounded by.The author calls its sequel ‘cosmologisation’ – the gradual, systematic acquisition of the universe by higher beings, i.e. those who are richer and more powerful. All in all, the book can be read as a novel that tells us about a world that is in sight just around the corner of the present day. This world will entail: ‘the end of mankind’, because it will create a ‘replaceable’ being; ‘the end of geography’, because it will offer the opportunity for virtually unlimited space travel; and finally ‘the end of illusions’, because it will bury faith in the idea that freedom and the achievements of civilisation are for everyone. In Dukaj’s world only the powerful are not afraid of illness, old age, injury or assassination, and it is only the powerful who are not bound by any spatial limitations. The fabulous new world lies spread at their feet. The rest play ball on the beach. They have the sand and the sunset for free – for now.
So here we are, it is the twenty-ninth century and everything in our galaxy has changed – and stayed the same.
- Przemysław Czapliński
“Royal families have always regarded themselves as inter-related; it’s the plebs and the poor who are the prisoners of borders and languages. But why, if they’re already here at the bottom, and if they inflict these bonds on themselves, this Civilisation…” –Zamoyski described a broad arc with the hand holding his cigar, encompassing the whole interior of “The Three Crowns” within the gesture – “…why is it so theatrical?”
“They’ve been performing it for six hundred years,” said Fire, laughing. “How else should it be?”
“Is it like that among your kind too? Among your parahabs ?”
“The parahabs are creating their own Civilisations. The Third Civilisation of RKI Progress covers part of the second and the beginning of the third and final part of the Curve. However, sometimes I have the honour of speaking in the name of the equivalent of the Grand Lodge in our Progress, and on those occasions I also represent Civilisations that only my animalingues understand now. In this regard your Progress is exceptional. Why on earth go poking around in a mechanism that works so well? You have a wonderful Civilisation. Maybe that’s just what’s needed to withstand similar expansion on the Curve – a touch of drama, some exaggeration, some kitsch and a little distance from yourself. Irony guarantees longevity.”
“Because you, prahbe , regard it just like a mechanism. But for me, a culture that cannot develop is dead. There’s no happiness in stagnation.”
The ambassador spread vis fat arms wide.
“Bah! But is there any happiness in change? Of course you know, stahs , everything is tending towards UI in a natural way. You know what death is – it’s the end of existence of a structure in the form that determines its identity, either as a result of decay or transformation into another form. No rules are stronger than the Laws of Progress, they’re the most basic principles of all, rooted deeper than the laws of physics. Every culture, every society and every species that’s under pressure to compete within a universe with fixed conditions inevitably tries to perfect itself, as it moves along the curve of changes towards UI. From forms that are worse adapted to those that are better adapted; and so the former are dying off. Basically, Progress is the history of the annihilation of successive embodiments of the phren . The Curve is the cemetery map of cultures. Each culture is balancing on a knife edge and becomes the victim of forces that are trying to tear it apart, forces of both progress and self-preservation. If the forces of progress prevail, its identity will be lost – and that means death. If the forces of self-preservation prevail, nothing changes right up to the end, when other, better adapted cultures crowd this one out – and that too means death. The difference appears as soon as there is an acceleration in roaming the Curve that causes these dependencies to be observed as hard statistical laws - a model is formulated (just as Alphonse Remy formulated one among your kind) and, on the strength of this knowledge, the culture takes action aimed at both preserving its identity and protecting itself against cultures from the summit of the Curve – because by then it is already aware of a threat. And that’s how Civilisations come into being. Or at least that’s how it happened in the Four Progresses. Of course, that isn’t the ultimate solution for all eternity either, but –”
“What about the Deformants? On the public Fields I have found examples describing divergent Progresses….”
“Ideological gibberish. Deformation usually arises as a revolt against Civilisation. That too is a line of change of a sort, but of course it does not strive towards UI. To call it Progress would be a major misuse of the word, because it doesn’t aim for perfection, so how can we measure its progress or degeneration? Undirected change is simply deformation. Clearly, neither Deformations – nor Civilisations lying lower on the Curve – would be possible if the universe were entirely cultivated, if the whole of space were filled with life. Just as on Earth various eccentric cultures survived as long as they were isolated, as long as the world wasn’t closed and the principles of competition had not yet begun to affect them. You could call them “natural Deformations”. But I know that even after that you had various such enclaves of archaism, motivated by religion or politics – Deformations and flights from Progress that are self-aware: the Chinese Empire, and in the west, the Amish; the museums of communism in Cuba or North Korea, the Taliban, later the Protectorate of the Cross and the Black Emirates… What happened to them?”
“They were engulfed by Christian capitalism.”
“They lost or adapted. Within a closed environment there is no escape. What did you call it in your times, stahs?”
Zamoyski blew smoke from his lungs. “Globalisation.”
“Globalisation. Globalisation is merely the first symptom of the fundamental, universal process of cosmologisation. The race begins on the globe, but in the final account it’s not about achieving the Perfect Form of a particular planetary environment, but the Perfect Form of the universe, of all possible universes.”
Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones