“I sit in my cubicle, here on the motherworld.
When I die, they will put my body in a box and
dispose of it in the cold ground.
And in all the million ages to come, I will never
breathe or laugh or twitch again.
So won’t you run and play with me here among the
teeming mass of humanity?
The universe has spared us this moment.”
— Anonymous, Datalinks
In the game, Habitation Domes can be constructed in bases once Super Tensile Solids are available. They represent the next step up from the previous Hab Complexes. Where Hab Complexes pretty much doubled the population cap at a base (from seven to fourteen, in most cases), the new Habitation Domes completely remove the cap. After this point, the only effective cap on base population is the total number of nutrients available to the base.
This is one of those bonuses that matter a lot more to a veteran player than to a novice. Very large bases tend to grow rather slowly unless they’re in pop-boom status. Without the Cloning Vats, most novice players won’t try to arrange a late-game pop boom to take full advantage of this new potential before the end of the game.
And then when it is combined with lots of Sky Hydroponics Labs, the possibilities become even more amazing. In particular, since most of the new population will be specialists, they don’t even contribute to social instability in the way that population growth is supposed to. That’s because only pop points working the land can be drones, so each specialist is intrinsically immune to being an unhappy worker. In addition, many specialist types generate Psych energy in addition to their other energy yields.
Reynolds chooses to accompany this facility with a little poem that I was unable to find any non-SMAC references to. I presume from that and the lack of attribution in the game that this poem is a Reynolds original. One that he clearly wrote from his own real-world perspective instead of using the voice of one of his characters in the game.
This is pretty fascinating. To my knowledge, it’s the only place in the game where Reynolds chooses to insert his own perspective directly. We might be able to guess what he might personally think based on various subtle clues, but for the most part, the platform he’s created to explore all these philosophical views has been the very model of impartiality.
So it’s intriguing that he’s chosen a thoughtful yet joyful meditation on mortality. Especially amidst all the craziness that we’ve seen come to pass on the SMAC world, both in canon and in the player’s own version of the experience. It serves as a reminder to the player that no matter what happens, it’s just a game. Life is supposed to be fun. At least sometimes, anyway.
But, in accordance with Reynolds’s established style, we can see the signs of clever selection in the context. For instance, the penultimate line references enjoying life amongst the “teeming mass of humanity”. Which is actually the physical purpose of the Habitation Dome in the game. It enables great throngs of humanity on Planet to arise, each with a chance to live and breathe and grow and enjoy the moments given to them as best they can.
It’s also worth considering the fact that the invitation to run and play with the author of a poem would normally almost always be rhetorical. But when the player encounters the poem while playing a game authored by the poet, the situation is a little different.
After all, he is already literally playing a game with Reynolds. It is his mind underlies the world and animates the player’s in-game rivals. His name is on the splash screen when the game starts up and everything.
The game isn’t even with the real Reynolds as he might exist whenever the game is booted up. In a metaphysical sense reminiscent of Tron, the player’s match is with the version of Reynolds as of the time the game, and thus presumably the poem, was written. The one that’s sitting in his cubicle and pondering his inevitable fate and place in the broader sweep of future history.
Finally, it’s kind of neat to ponder the fact that Reynolds chose to cite this poem as “Anonymous” in the SMAC Datalinks. In the future he posits, after the death of Earth, his only lasting contribution turns out to be a few lines of philosophical poetry. His body of work will be forgotten. Even his name will be lost to the ages.
But for now, at least, play on! The universe has spared us time enough for one more turn.