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posted by Fnord666 on Sunday October 21 2018, @09:36PM   Printer-friendly
from the documenting-our-tech-tree dept.

Imagine that in the future you can rent time machines just as easily as you can rent a car. Paradoxes are nicely sidestepped, and you even get the handy pamphlet "1001 Fun Ways to kill Hitler". Sounds great, right? Suppose that time machine breaks down. Turns out it's easier to re-invent civilization than it is to fix said machine, and that's what this book purports to do.

This book is chock full of tidbits, like this on buttons. People wore buttons for thousands of years as ornaments. It was only fairly recently someone realized they could hold clothes closed. This is disgraceful and embarrassing. You can do better.

Scalzi's page describes this book much better than I can. Need to know which animals to domesticate? Covered. Foods to cultivate? Covered. Crop rotation? Compass? Non-sucky numbers? Forge? Birth Control? Logic? Chemistry? Steel? check, check, check, check, ...., check.

This is not a textbook, there is no math, and minimal theory on why things work. It's focused on why and how, not "how does it work?".

I got my copy from the library and, after an hour or two, ordered my own copy from Amazon. I'm sure my fellow Soylenters will also love this book.


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  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by driverless on Sunday October 21 2018, @10:55PM (3 children)

    by driverless (4770) on Sunday October 21 2018, @10:55PM (#751800)

    For people who have read it, how does it solve the standard problem with these sorts of go-back-and-create-everything narratives that in order to "invent" X you need to first invent the twenty things you need to build X, and before that invent the four hundred things you need to build the twenty things you need to build X, and before that invent the sixteen thousand things you need for the four hundred things for the...

    Inventions rarely come about because someone has a flash of inspiration and makes something happen out of thin air. It's usually because the conditions are right, in that the required prerequisites have been created to allow you to create the actual invention. If you're starting from scratch, that's a lot of inventing once you're done with the initial low-hanging fruit.

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  • (Score: 4, Interesting) by takyon on Sunday October 21 2018, @11:37PM

    by takyon (881) <reversethis-{gro ... s} {ta} {noykat}> on Sunday October 21 2018, @11:37PM (#751809) Journal

    How much luggage can a hypothetical time traveler bring? If you can bring a cubic meter, you might be able to bring a replicator, self-replenishing nanobots, robot assistants to perform delicate and dangerous tasks, or whatever you need to simplify and skip hundreds of steps on the way to becoming self-sufficient and reaching a modern level of technology. And while reinventing hundreds of rudimentary things in order to build X is a hassle, you could have a good shot at doing so if you have some specialized equipment, no time limit due to anti-aging, and have the "cheat codes" that the real inventors never had. There are other, more subtle advantages that you could exploit, such as a historical map of all known iron, gold, titanium, crude oil, lithium, etc. deposits on the planet.

    The pursuit of knowledge doesn't just mean finding a new way to make a smaller microchip. We can also learn how to do more with less. That could mean finding a new chemical reaction that is less energy and resource intensive, using genetically engineered organisms to produce complicated pharmaceutical products, or using cheap tools [hackteria.org] to perform the same tasks as expensive lab equipment. This knowledge would be useful for space colonization, a post-apocalypse situation, or the hypothetical time traveler.

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  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by bzipitidoo on Monday October 22 2018, @12:41AM

    by bzipitidoo (4388) on Monday October 22 2018, @12:41AM (#751828) Journal

    There's an awful lot of knowledge that would not have to be rediscovered. If you already know the Periodic Table of the Elements, all the most useful recipes of metallurgy and chemistry, maps of the whole world that include geology info about mineral deposits, knowledge of electricity and the electromagnetic spectrum, some knowledge of engineering, biology, medicine, and modern agriculture, you could advance quickly, skipping all the mistakes and wrong ideas the ancients had. Wouldn't take long to harness some serious power, and soon after that things would really take off.

    Now if you have to start all the way from scratch, Old Stone Age level, with no crop plants, no domesticated species of animals, no metals of any sort readily available and no mines, and in a relatively hostile climate maybe with freezing cold winters so that you have to devote much time to hunting for food and making furs and leather and such (clothmaking being way too labor intensive to start up in one season), an even knapping stones to make spear points and the like, then yeah, that's going to slow things down. Worse is if you are in a nasty swampy tropical place with all those lovely diseases such as malaria, and tsetse flies and the like, your best bet would probably be to move, on foot, to better ground first, if possible to do so without becoming dinner for large predators such as big cats, crocs, hyenas, and wolf packs. Poisonous snakes could be another big problem. In that case, wilderness survival training would be vital. Even so it wouldn't take that much longer, if you didn't succumb to the many dangers of the wild.

  • (Score: 2) by Snotnose on Monday October 22 2018, @01:15AM

    by Snotnose (1623) on Monday October 22 2018, @01:15AM (#751838)

    For people who have read it, how does it solve the standard problem with these sorts of go-back-and-create-everything narratives that in order to "invent" X you need to first invent the twenty things you need to build X, and before that invent the four hundred things you need to build the twenty things you need to build X, and before that invent the sixteen thousand things you need for the four hundred things for the...

    The book has a tech tree, much like the Civilization games. You want steel? You need this, this, and this. Everything in the book has maybe 3-4 things you have to invent first. Of course, those could also have 3-4 things you have to invent first, but that's why you have a tech tree. But in 300 some odd pages he gets you to steam engines, internal combustion engines, and computers. As a side note, he also describes how to make music and great art. All with prerequisites that are provided in the book.

    The key point the book makes over and over is that we could have invented *this* several hundred years earlier, sometimes a few thousand years earlier. He also points out things like cement that the Romans invented but the tech was forgotten for a thousand years.

    The book does a pretty damned good job of setting out the prerequisites needed for a technology. Each prerequisite is also described (earlier) in the book, with it's own set of prerequisites.

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