Technology: Advanced Ecological Engineering

“You are the children of a dead planet, earthdeirdre, and this death we do not comprehend. We shall take you in, but may we ask this question–will we too catch the planetdeath disease?”

— Lady Deirdre Skye, “Conversations with Planet”

This quote is the likely the second one the player will see from Lady Deirdre’s canonical Conversations With Planet. The player himself will see a couple of vignettes wherein the Planetmind converses with “earth[leader_name]” as certain in-game events take place, so we know that each faction can and does make mind-to-mind contact with Planet itself. But the player will only ever see quotes in the implied canon from Lady Deirdre’s recorded dialog.

The first of these quotes came with the construction of an Aerospace Complex. And that time, Planet sounded somewhat defensive. The passage ended with it openly wondering whether or not humanity were best considered a cancer to be excised. This is a significant threat. Made more worrisome given the fact that Planet has innumerable boils of mind worms at its disposal to make good on the threat, should it so choose.

But this time, Planet seems to be in more of a worried mood. It is still struggling with the human question, but it seems to have reconciled itself to the presence of humanity. At the very least it seems to like the Gaians. This adds up as they almost assuredly have a high Planet score at this point in the game.

It’s worth wondering here just what, exactly, Planet is capable of here. Reynolds has established that the fungus itself serves as a massive brain for the entire ecology, knitting it together into what might be considered a single meta-organism. The analogy to its nervous system runs over a psionic medium, and the “blood cells” and “organs” that keep the fungus alive and operational are whole species of creatures that live and die amongst the fungal towers.

Actually, in a strange way, it resembles nothing so much as Yang’s dream for the Hive. He sought to build a meta-organism out of the human race, to best represent and advance its interests in perpetuity, in a way that no single human being ever could. Planet seems to have evolved something similar. But from the entire ecology of Chiron instead of a single race of intelligent apes.

These first conversations do not make it seem as if Planet is vastly more intelligent than any of the human faction leaders. One might expect a single planet-sized brain to outclass a few exceptional humans. But in both of these quotes it seems much more akin to a child than a menacing super-intelligence.

This could be because something about the fungus makes it a particularly poor substrate for intelligence. Planet could be playing Lady Deirdre, perhaps. It can read her mind, after all. Potentially it could just be telling her what she wants to hear in the way she wants to hear it. Or, possibly, it is just that Planet is not used to thinking to intelligences outside itself, so its lack of skill in the arts of communication leads it to come across as naïve.

In any event, the player sees that this newest conversation takes place as his faction discovers the seventh-tier economic technology Advanced Ecological Engineering. This is the next tech along the terraforming tree. So it’s thematically appropriate to see another quote from Planet here.

In SMAC, when the insights from Environmental Economics are combined with Fusion Power, it becomes possible to produce new super terraformer units. These super formers can perform every terraforming action at double speed. Additionally, this tech makes it possible to add the soil enricher improvement on top of farms, which causes them to yield an extra nutrient on top of whatever their yield may have been before.

The super former is a major reason why the pace of the game picks up so much into the late-game. Fusion powered rover-chassis super formers – which become the standard after this tech – can lay roads and mag tubes over flat ground astoundingly quickly. In small teams they can throw up even large projects like condensors and giant echelon mirrors in just a couple of turns. And it doesn’t take too many more raw minerals and energy, run through the copious multiplier buildings most players love to build, to cause a faction’s economy to just take off like a rocket.

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4 thoughts on “Technology: Advanced Ecological Engineering

    1. Nick Stipanovich Post author

      I think there just wasn’t time. Remember, Reynolds only has so much bandwidth to spend on Yang. And he basically has to spend all of it setting up and justifying Yang to the player, so that he’ll even give Yang the time of day.

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      1. ramblog

        What do other factions look like w/r/t jobs that aren’t their forte? Like, what’s the University’s army like? What are scientists like in the Spartans? Or military Gaians.

        The ones that seem like the most easily adaptable to all kinds of tasks would be, to me, the Morganites.

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      2. Nick Stipanovich Post author

        I imagine science in Sparta looks a lot like WW2-era Germany, without all the ideological bits. Basically, they have a bunch of really smart people spending all their time following up their most awesome ideas. But nobody really cares too much about really pinning down the relatively boring parts. Like efficient mass production. So you get the occasional super-heavy tank or totally awesome rocket interceptor, but they never really scale out to “world-conquering army” as efficiently as it seems like they ought to have, on paper.

        The Gaian conventional army is pretty lame in most SE configurations. I imagine it to look something like the modern Swedish armed forces: they exist more for photo-ops than for killing bad guys. The Gaian psi-corps, on the other hand, is freaking terrifying.

        The University’s army is probably filled with draftees at first. In reverse order of test scores. But they almost certainly enthusiastically embrace cyborgs and drones. By the mid-game, the University’s armed forces are really scary.

        Morgan’s actually not very good at war. He has that support penalty and in FM he can’t even use police troopers. At first, it can often be best to use armored spy teams as mindworm defense and for exploration – essentially rent-a-cops – because they don’t require minerals to support.

        The general form of this question is really thought-provoking. Maybe I should return to it later in more depth.

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