The listeners in the room were alert, silent. Ganesh looked around at them; none of this was new to them but he said anyway, ‘Questions?’ A few head-shakings answered: Get on with the bad news, they meant.
‘We have grasped the implications of Alpha Centauri. Everybody, from the asteroid belt to Moonbase, has grasped them. The result has been a feeling that we are calling boredom, but that is in fact a fear, new to us, of being pointless. Of doing irrelevant work. Because without our belief in productive work, what is our reason for existing?’
A slight rustling spread across the great roomgin, as if a breeze had blown through. Several men and women exchanged looks, some ironic, some worried. Ganesh looked around them, registered the looks, nodded his head as if he knew what they were saying, glanced up at the curving wall above them and was surprised by the number of tiny lights, each representing a hundred messages from Outlanders across their world. not only was nobody drowsing in the chamber, but thousands of people were interested enough in what he was saying to comment! Slightly pleased, slightly rattled, he went on:
‘I have tried to analyze my own thoughts and then to see if they can be shared by others. What I find is a little surprising – that, much as I revere and love work, I must also revere and love it for the variety it brings. Now, to be sure, we all take part in the mundane kinds of work that keep the Outposts going: I, for example, have spent one five-year workspan in trash remediation and recovery, another in lower school administration, and a third in archival storage. Needless to say, these did not abound in excitement.’ Low, understanding laughter.
‘But I had other workspans to look back on and to look forward to – one with asteroid patrol and recovery, one with base design, several with enhanced fuel research, which is the speciality for which I was trained. But as I think of all of those activities now, I realize that it wasn’t only their variety that kept me from boredom and angst; it was the hope – the confidence – that because of my work, tomorrow would be better. More varied, more exciting, more fulfilling.
‘And now I know – and I think that this knowledge is, if not universal, surely widespread – that tomorrow can be only like today. That we can only do more of what we do, within the space we already know. That we are here – and we shall always be here. That our atmospheres will always be artificial ones; that our gravity will always be constructed; that our skies will always be contained within domes and polyhedrons. That we shall always have variety, but it will be the same variety; we shall always have choices, but they will always be the same choices. We shall look to the stars, and see the denial of our dreams.’
The great room was very quiet. Nobody was sleeping.
‘What we are feeling, we call boredom. But it isn’t that negative, boredom; it is a positive – loss of hope. Disappointment. And it is becoming more real. More acute. Suicide, which has always been rare among us, is up over the last twenty years by seventeen per cent. Crime – vandalism, unsocial behavior – has risen twenty-one percent. Clinically tested depression is up fourteen per cent. Volunteering for hazardous work has risen by fifty-four percent! And as you know, the number of psychotic prisoners on Heisenberg Island has stayed steady at eleven for the mast nine years – the largest number in our history.
‘What I propose is going to sound frivolous to you at first. I do not propose it frivolously. I am serious. Some of you will say that I am proposing to escape our situation, not to solve it, as our ancestors were said to escape their problems with what one of the Founders called ‘manufactured dreams’ in the poem, ‘Preparation for the Century of War.’ You all know the poem. We study it as children. “’And as all day they manufactured bombs/ they soothed themselves by night with manufactured dreams/ and woke to die in real flames”.’
‘Well, perhaps what I offer is a manufactured dream. It is certainly meant as an entertainment, but an entertainment that is also a research methodology and, if we do it right, a means of instruction. What I propose is a reenactment – if you like, a living history – of our ancestor’s world before the Century of War. The world that became the Century of War. The world that caused the Founders to flee earth and modify us genetically. The world of humans before they became fully human.’