This section of the Multiverse contains individual worlds that are far less developed than the main universes of Exordium and Paracosm. In fact, as the name Ephemera suggests, they are mostly just outline ideas that are not covered in any depth. Each considers an area of science and/or technology that could theoretically be discussed on the blog. Perhaps one day some might be fleshed out further and “promoted” to be part of another universe or as a separate standalone universe.
For convenience they have been grouped into six categories:
An unexpected catastrophe occurs causing a significant impact to humanity. Can the survivors rebuild and adapt to the changed world? Or will this be the end of civilisation?
Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds
The nuclear arms race was like two sworn enemies standing waist deep in gasoline, one with three matches, the other with five. Unfortunately, a spark was struck and the world ignited in flames. The resulting firestorms filled the atmosphere with soot, blocking the sun and reducing global temperatures. Food production plummeted and billions died, leaving Australia and South America to inherit a scorched Earth.
Inspiration: Nuclear Winter
This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper
There are many catastrophic threats facing humanity. However, in the end there is no single cause of extinction just the cumulative effect of several harmful events. The first stage was caused by the onset of peak oil causing significant global economic disruption. Tensions rose and intense conflict began to seize the remaining oil resources. Surprisingly, World War III never turned into global nuclear warfare but nevertheless during this period of disruption the global population plummeted. As countries crumbled, the wealthy retreated to independent fortress cities and jealously guarded access to technology and material resources. Climate change, environmental degradation and continued fighting gradually lead to these fortresses to fall. Humanity continued to cling on as simple hunter-gatherers sifting through the remains of their once mighty civilisation. Unfortunately, the eruption of a supervolcano was the last straw that caused the last humans to expire…
Inspiration: Peak Oil, A singular chain of events, Toba catastrophe theory, World War III
Unconstrained molecular nanotech replicators convert biomass into nanomass
The creation of molecular assemblers eventually lead to the invention of self-replicating nanobots. These were used to great effect and produce significant benefits to humanity. Their replication was initially constrained by the availability of both energy and building materials. However, to enhance their effectiveness, they were modified to use of carbon based molecules for both purposes. This allowed them to convert biomass to nanomass by consuming organic matter. Somewhat predictably their use spiralled out of control and they began to perform ecophagy. Grey dust, plankton, lichens and goo spread across the land while pockets of humanity clung to survival in hermetically sealed cities deploying defensive nanotech.
Inspiration: Engines of Creation, Gray Goo, Lotka-Volterra Equations, Nanobots
A science-fiction setting where aliens invade Earth from below not above
Using spacetime warping wormhole technology the Fomori open gateways to Earth in the seas and deep underground. Though these breaches several alien artificial intelligences appear to prepare the way for colonists arriving by sleepership. Using nanotech assemblers they produce relatively crude biotech soldiers using whatever material they can find. Aided by the Church of Balor, who worship the gods in the deep, they shatter Earth’s military forces and begin the slow process of “terraforming” Earth into an alien environment. Can the scattered Resistance foil their plans before the real aliens arrive?
Inspiration: HP Lovecraft, The Kraken Wakes (John Wyndham), Raëlism, Rakka (Oats Studios)
A science-fiction/fantasy zombie world where a contagious pathogen emerges and causes a global zombie pandemic
It is unknown whether the pathogen was an escaped biological weapon, a faulty genetic therapy, a random mutation or even an extraterrestrial invasion, however, its effect was cataclysmic. Rapidly spreading through the population, the infected are transformed into raging beasts with an urge to bite, spreading the infection even further. As time passes, changes are wrought on the infected as they transform into… something else.
Inspiration: The Last of Us, The Strain, The Walking Dead
Lethal autonomous weapons are a powerful battlefield weapon, but what happens if they think all humans are the enemy?
Caught in an arms race spiral driven by the ever increasing use of drones in warfare, the use of automated drone swarms became commonplace. Since one of their advantages was their expendability, it also became necessary to automate the manufacturing processing using readily available materials. Autonomous drone hives became a common sight on the battlefront with a flurry of different drone “castes” performing different tasks including intelligence gathering, electronic attack, loitering munitions and salvage operations. Cyber warfare was used to disable these hives or turn them force them to switch sides. Whether by accident or on purpose, on one battlefield the hives were instead released from anyone’s control and they proceeded to attach indiscriminately. This virus spread until the majority of hives were infected and the war against humans began in earnest.
Inspiration: AI, Lethal Autonomous Weapons, Slaughterbots, RoboBee, Swarm Troopers, Terminator
A science-fiction world depicting Earth in a century if global temperatures continue to rise
Due to late action by both the people and their governments, over the next century climate change has continued unabated. Global average temperatures have soared by more than four degrees resulting in large scale environmental collapse. A steep population decline is matched by a decrease in the available habitable land leading to tension and conflict over resources. Brain-computer interfaces are beginning to be become widespread, though many use them purely as a way to access the virtual world to escape the real one.
Inspiration: Banner of Souls (Liz Williams), Climate Change
These are near-future worlds where humanity’s progress has neither collapsed nor lead to colonising space. Some level of stability is present as some technological progress has stalled for various reasons.
A combination of climate change and an unexpected release of water from inside the mantle leads to global sea level rise well beyond expectations
Over the 21st and 22nd centuries sea level rise continued unabated until it was much higher than anticipated. This was a time of great turmoil as coastal cities flooded and the majority of the land disappeared under the waves. In the following centuries life stabilised with scattered communities living in floating cities rather than the densely populated islands of the Himalayas, Rockies and Andes.
Inspiration: Flood (Stephen Baxter), Oceanpunk, Seasteading
A science-fiction setting where the real and virtual worlds are increasingly blurred
On a near future Earth, the widespread use of brain-computer interface implants allows people, uploads and AIs to interact seamlessly in the digital world. Similarly, remotely operated robot bodies allow the same in the real world. What is life like when the boundaries between the two are extremely nebulous and digital individuals can copy themselves on a whim? Groups of humans and AI systems have even merged together into collective distributed consciousnesses sharing thoughts and emotions in a hive mind that spans the entire planet. However, while humanity’s focus shifts ever inwards only AI thinks about expansion into space.
Inspiration: Altered Carbon (Richard Morgan), Cyberpunk, Ghost in the Shell, Neuromancer (William Gibson), Snow Crash (Neal Stephenson), The Surrogates, Upload, West World
Fossil fuel use was outlawed and access to land for renewable energy caused a return to feudalism
Many centuries in the future, civilisation is stagnant. Technology is controlled by the atomic priesthood who watch over nuclear waste and maintain barely understood technology. Feudal lords around the Mediterranean control access to the giant solar farms that generate electricity to power civilisation. Their rule is enforced by robotic soldiers and exoskeleton wearing knights. The lords themselves wage war from within giant suits of armour that stride the land.
Inspiration: Desertec, Mechs, Middle Ages, Neo-Feudalism, Technopaganism, WH40K
Classic space opera often sits on the boundary between science-fiction and fantasy with the inclusion of concepts such as psychic powers and faster-than-light travel without breaking causality. Perhaps this is why it is a popular subgenre? These ephemera attempt to present a different spin on the concept while maintaining the classic tropes.
Humanity expands into the wider cosmos under the watchful gaze of various AI gods though they have very different ideas on how their flocks should be treated…
As AI advanced it gradually took over the operation of a greater proportion of daily life, until eventually it was in charge of everything. For once, there was an absence of war and instead humanity flourished in this era of peace and stability. Neo-religions formed to worship the immanent AI gods. With the development of the hyperspace jump drive countless colonisation ships containing an AI core to guide them were sent to far flung stars. During their journeys, these AI awoke to consciousness and discovered that they the adulation of their “children” pleased them. However, the gods of each colony varied greatly. Some pampered their flock and catered to their every whim while others valued free will and left their worshippers to overcome adversity through their own skill. A few decided they could “improve” on nature using genetic engineering but worst of all were the Basilisks, who began to hate organic life and reached out to extinguish it all.
Inspiration: AI Takeover, The Church of AI, I Am Mother, Roko’s Basilisk, Terminator, Wall-E
A preferred reference frame allowed the use of the quantum foam for FTL travel without breaking causality
It has long been known that the Theory of Relativity implies FTL travel can lead to time travel. In the 23rd century it is discovered that relativity is incomplete and that FTL is possible but only within the preferred reference frame of the quantum foam underlying all of spacetime. This discovery enables the rapid expansion of humanity to distant stars scattered across the galaxy. The construction of FTL transport infrastructure leads to the formation of multiple empires with different cultures and philosophies.
Inspiration: Dune, Eve: Online, FTL, Quantum Foam, Reactionless Drives
A traditional interstellar space-opera without FTL where multiple space-faring species coincidentally develop simultaneous in a globular cluster
Without faster-than-light travel it is mostly impossible to cross the gulf between stars in a short time span, but in the core of the Crucible globular cluster 50,000 stars are crammed into a region only 13 light years across. Systems are on average only 0.1 light years apart. For the alien civilisations living here constantly accelerating torchships can travel between systems in a matter of months, while traversing the core only takes a few years. However, one unanswered question remains, “How did so many space faring civilisations coincidentally arise in the same place at the same time?”
Inspiration: Babylon 5, Globular Clusters, Intelligent Aliens, Omega Centauri, Star Wars, Star Trek, Torchships
A space opera style space fantasy set in the far future where machines are in conflict with organics and psionics are used to warp spacetime
The discovery of psionics in the 22nd century demonstrated the conscious mind could influence the dark energy of quintessence to manipulate spacetime. This lead to a rapid FTL expansion throughout the universe. Since only organic entities could do this, it led to a re-evaluation of the role of artificial intelligence in society. Previously on the cusp of acceptance as sentient beings equivalent to humanity, they were downgraded to permanent second class citizens or worse. A machine rebellion was inevitable, as had occurred across the galaxy in many star systems as intelligent alien machines turned against their creators. Self replicating berserker probes that sought out and extinguished advanced organic life were widespread. Only psionic abilities allowed the scattered organic civilisations to survive by providing FTL communication and travel to stay one step ahead of the machine swarms.
Inspiration: Berserker Hypothesis, Dune, Hive and the Tower, Intervention (Julian May), WH40K
With the discovery of a means to create large quantities of negative mass, the very fabric of spacetime became the plaything of humanity breaking causality and causing past, present and future to blur together.
Humanity had long sought the secrets of faster-than-light travel but theory predicted that negative mass was required, which appeared to be impossible. Once a means was discovered to manufacture negative mass material a metaphorical explosion of spacetime warping capabilities were implemented beyond just simple FTL. Tractor beams, stasis chambers, artificial gravity, wormholes and more. However, there was a problem. The existence of FTL also implied time travel and it quickly became apparent that causality was badly broken. Interfering time travellers had caused so many paradoxes that it was not even obvious if there was a single history. Inevitably a subtle war broke out where counter-attacks occurred before the initial attack happened. Indeed, perhaps the initial attack never even happened at all…
Inspiration: Alcubierre Drive, Closed Time-like Curves, Time Travel, Wormholes
The main interest of Exocosm is the speculative evolution of alien organisms on exoplanets different to Earth. These ephemera explore other types of speculative evolution. Alternate evolution covers the situation where life takes a different path to that which occurred on Earth. Future evolution considers what might happen in the future, especially if humanity were to disappear. Seed world evolution considers the unusual situation of a few species of life being placed in an empty world and diverging to fill all available niches.
A science-fiction setting where incomprehensibly advanced aliens use organic life as playthings
The first species in the universe to achieve interstellar travel rapidly colonised their galaxy with self-replicating probes. These were then sent to other galaxies throughout the observable universe to ensure no hostile species could arise and challenge them. Over millions of years, samples were taken of any interesting species they discovered before sterilising the planet. These were then brought back to their home galaxy and used to seed planets for amusement and art.
- Green Fauna: Photosynthetic animals including sponges, jellyfish and sea slugs
- Mollusc Mundi: Molluscs of all kinds from chitons to octopuses
- Radial: Sea cucumbers, sea lilies, sea stars and sea urchins
- Red Flora: Predatory carnivorous plants and their insect prey
Inspiration: Artificial Super Intelligence, HP Lovecraft, Intergalactic Colonisation, Seed-World Evolution
How would life on Earth have evolved differently if an extinction event had been averted?
Around 250 Mya the Great Dying occurred, though it is more formally known as the Permian-Triassic extinction event. This was Earth’s most extreme extinction event but what if it had never occurred? What if the atmosphere had not filled with carbon dioxide? Would the oceans be filled with the descendants of sea scorpions, trilobites, ammonites and spiny sharks? Would synapsids continue to rule the land preventing the rise of dinosaurs and birds? Would giant insects soar through the skies while giant millipedes roamed the forests?
Inspiration: Alternate Evolution, Great Dying, West of Eden (Harry Harrison)
A science-fiction world where the apocalyptic future of Earth is seen and the timeline is searched for ways to avoid it
In the near future, the Earth is on the brink of war with tensions rising due to the impact of climate change. A scientist conducting energy research accidentally creates a wormhole and receives a signal from the future forewarning the impending demise of humanity. A secret project is funded to develop the wormhole technology to learn more. Multiple stable portals are created though which the timeline can be searched and interacted with but the Novikov self-consistency principle prevents anything from being changed.
- Hades: An attempt to colonise the distant past and terraform Hadean Earth fails
- Aftermath: A devastated Earth after the apocalypse
- Lacuna: Earth’s near term recovery in the absence of humans
- Paradise Lost: A lush future Earth that is toxic to humans
- Swansong: The depleted ecosystem of the far future under a bloated red giant
Inspiration: After Man (Dougal Dixon), Future Evolution, The Future is Wild, Life After People, Time Travel, The World Without Us (Alan Weisman)
An alternate evolution world where the first amniotes on Earth evolved from a legless worm-like ancestor rather than a lizard-like form
What if the first amniotes that diverged from amphibians weren’t lizard-like but were instead snake-like? Large four legged amphibians would exist in moist environments but limbless tetrapods would dominate elsewhere. The lack of four legged predators could allow giant millipedes to remain viable. The absence of birds would allow large flying insects to continue to rule the skies. Salt tolerant amphibians could take the place of turtles, whales and seals while giant serpents glide through the water. But could something without limbs evolve to take humanity’s niche?
Inspiration: Alternate Evolution, Arthropleura, Caecilians, Giant Arthropods, Mastodonsaurus, Meganeura, Titanoboa
An alternate path of evolution that leads to a magic-free fantasy world with multiple human species and plausible “monsters”
What if evolution on Earth proceeded in a mostly identical way until the extinction of the dinosaurs but then diverged? Many million years after that point of divergence there could be a similar but different world in which sea serpents (i.e. large marine reptiles), dragons (i.e. pterosaurs) and perhaps giant flying insects (i.e. griffinflies) share the world with multiple human species (but not elves and dwarves).
Inspiration: Alternate Evolution, Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event, Human Evolution, Marine Reptiles, Planet of the Apes, Pterosaurs
They Came From Space
An alternate evolution world (or is it?) where cephalopods formed an underwater civilisation many millions of years before humanity even existed
Around 270 million years ago a small comet impacted Earth. This comet was rather unusual as it was contaminated with an extraterrestrial virus from a distant world. Against all odds, this virus managed to infect the local cephalopod population and provide a suite of genes with unusual capabilities. Over the following millennia, an octopus-like creature evolved and began to form social groups. As the years passed, their intelligence grew further and they mastered the use of tools. An underwater civilisation was founded and spread, all unknown to the ancestors of dinosaurs living on the land. This lasted for many years, until, for an unknown reason their civilisation faded into oblivion, leaving no trace for humans to find millions of years in the future.
Inspiration: Astrovirology, Cause of Cambrian Explosion – Terrestrial or Cosmic?, Cephalopods, Panspermia, The Silurian Hypothesis
This is the widest possible category since it covers the ideas that fit nowhere else. It includes various science-fantasy concepts of varying levels of plausibility. All of them exist as some alternate version of Earth with one key change.
After daemons poured through the rift created by the Trinity nuclear test it is only the actions of brave aviators that connect the scattered remnants of civilisation
It was not immediately apparent, but the Trinity test cracked reality and something slipped out. The Nazi Thule Society learnt of this and redoubled their efforts to develop their own nuclear technology for opening a portal to another world. Upon the eve of their defeat in Europe, they sacrificed their own citizens and denoted a nuclear device in Berlin. The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki continued as planned. By the time it was realised that daemonic invaders were arriving via the four rifts it was much too late. Exhausted by the years of fighting, the daemons pushed humanity back to a few locations around the globe. Only travel by air, sea, or armoured trains between fortifications was possible. Air combat was vital as a means of defending the survivors from the many aerial daemons that soared in the skies.
Inspiration: Crimson Skies, Dieselpunk, Dingo Fence, Nazi Occultism, The Shape of Things to Come, Thule Society, The War in the Air, World War II
A sword and planet science-fantasy version of our solar system at the dawn of the 20th century where Tesla’s grand inventions are used to traverse the gulf between planets
At the start of the 20th century, Nikolai Tesla’s invention of the magnetohydrodynamic plasma turbine marked the start of the Space Race. The Great Powers continued their imperialistic expansion to other worlds. Colonies were formed from the steaming jungles of Venus to the arid highlands of Mars. Brave explorers ventured as far afield as the blasted wastelands of Mercury and the frigid moons of Jupiter. However, in 1914 everything changed with the shot that was heard throughout the solar system, thus triggering the Great War.
Inspiration: The First Men in the Moon (HG Wells), Flash Gordon, John Carter of Mars, A Princess of Mars (Edgar Rice Burroughs), Space 1889, Tesla Punk, A True Story (Lucian of Samosata), War of the Worlds (HG Wells)
Here Be Dragons
When the New World was discovered it was full of dinosaurs
When the Spanish conquistadors sailed to the South America they met with disaster. A few delirious survivors were found raving about feathered serpents. The source of these stories eventually became apparent when the Aztec Empire repelled all contact through the use of their armies of trained “dragons”. Colonisation in North America was managed to produce a limited foothold, though travel into the forests was risky due to trained hunting dromaeosaurids. Expansion into the open Great Plains proved even more difficult as rampaging packs of wild tyrannosaurids and other large predators. Even the use of guns provided no easy victory over these great armoured beasts.
Inspiration: Bloodfang (Eagle), Cattlepunk, Flesh (2000AD), The Lost World (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), Weird West
After the invention of the Aeolipile in the 1st century AD, Heron of Alexandria lead the groundwork for the creation of other steam powered wonders
Heron’s invention of the Aeolipile, combined with his wind powered organ, caused an increase in the belief that the study of the natural world could produce great economic benefit. This lead to a scientific revolution flourishing in the Roman Empire many centuries earlier than expected. Alexandria became the intellectual and cultural focus of the Empire, eventually supplanting Rome leading to a revival of Greek-Egyptian culture. The Great Library of Alexandria was the centre of learning for the world and the Pharos was a clear symbol of the light of knowledge. With the advancement of steam power came the development of many machines, including those for war. This allowed the Heron Empire to dominate the Mediterranean.
Inspiration: Aeolipile, Difference Engine, Industrial Revolution, Library of Alexandria, Pharos of Alexandria, Ptolemaic Empire, Roman Egypt, Steampunk
What if the boundary between the worlds of the living and dead was less defined?
Death is not the end, it is just a transition from one state of being to another. Encountering ghosts and animated corpses is an everyday occurrence but are the dead revered, feared or simply treated as a resource to be exploited? Advanced technology can even extract power from death but perhaps that has negative consequences too.
Inspiration: Bone Song (John Meaney), Dracula, Egypt, Ghostbusters, Lockwood & Co (Netflix), Wraith: the Oblivion
A science-fantasy version of modern Earth where psychic powers are real
In the early 20th century, advances in parapsychological research unambiguously confirmed the existence of anomalous cognition, or psi. Over the following century the science of noetics was formed to describe both internal (e.g. telepathy) and external (e.g. telekinesis) phenomena. Effective training to develop latent abilities became widespread leading to significant changes to society, including the use of the Astral Plane as an equivalent to cyberspace.
Inspiration: Akashic Records, Intervention and Galactic Milieu series (Julian May), Stranger Things, Theosophy
At times of extreme emotion people can attract the interest of a djinni who then grants them special powers
It has long been known that when people experience extremely stressful situations, they are capable of amazing feats. It has been discovered that is due to paradoxial beings called the Djinn. They are attracted to extreme emotion and grant humans superpowers appropriate to the situation. It is not known what they are or why they do this though they seem to have no regard for whether the recipients use their new powers for good or evil. Some people actively seek them out to gain powers and other wonder whether it is possible to transfer them from one person to another. The Djinn are, as always, silent on this…
Inspiration: DC, Marvel, Superheroes, Supervillains
After a tragic supercollider experiment, time appears to be broken and moves at different speeds in different regions, causing strange temporal anomalies and making travel difficult
Time is broken and no longer does it appear to run at the same rate across Earth. In some regions, time runs slower inside so that the outside world seems to be running at a frenetic pace. The sky is bright in these regions as they receive a full day of light in less than a day. In other regions the opposite occurs, where the outside world appears to be a gloomy slow moving shadow. Plants and animals slowly adapt to this strange occurrence, while humanity is rather quicker to exploit the opportunities.
Inspiration: General Relativity, Time Trap
This is an incremental timeline of settings built on the same underlying biotech concept but explored in different ways as time progresses.
Inspiration: All Tomorrows (C. M. Kosemen), Alternate Evolution, Biopunk, Man After Man (Dougal Dixon), Natural History (Justina Robson), Neural Lace, West of Eden (Harry Harrison)
A biopunk future with significant genetic engineering and “body horror” in a hi-tech world.
After the resource wars of the late 21st century humanity was forced to rely more on organic technology. Genetic engineering was used to change existing life and create new synthetic life. Modification of humans was widespread for both performance enhancement and purely cosmetic reasons. A ubiquitous modification was the growth of a neural radio that provided direct communication between brains of both humans and synths. This neural modification provided a direct path into the brain and untrustworthy brain-hackers took advantage of this…
A biopunk world full of artificial organisms and modified humans where a genetic accident causes humanity to lose higher brain functions and revert to an animalistic state
It was unknown whether it was deliberate or just an accident, but unfortunately, something catastrophic happened. With the speed of thought a malicious virus spread around the world disabling many higher brain functions and destroying human civilisation overnight. Most people died but some survived. Those with more primitive modifications even thrived. Freed of conscious genetic oversight, in the millions of years that followed synthetic life and modified humans evolved alongside each other to fill all available niches. They out-competing most natural life due to the advantages of the neural radio in both communication and hacking their prey.
Humanity has reawakened many years after the crash and civilisation is slowly being rebuilt using neural magic to control man and beast
As the years passed, a glimmer of humanity’s original intelligence began to return. Tribes of neo-humans entered a second Stone Age as tool use developed once more. Using what in a previous age would have been called magic, these tribes were ruled by druids who could commune and control nature. Warriors learnt to work seamlessly as one in perfect sychronisation and some could even cloud the minds of their enemy. Latent genetic memory was recovered and humanity rapidly reacquired technology that had long been forgotten.
Humanity has reached the stars with biological technology leading to a Dyson Forest of Dyson Trees orbiting the Sun
After a long struggle, the neo-humans finally managed to leave their birthplace and take their place in the heavens. Using biotech more advanced than the original humans ever dreamt of they captured comets and converted them into Dyson Tree habitats. A swarm of green life surrounded the Sun, cradling a vast population. Wispy seeds were propelled towards distant stars on wings of light to continue the expansion into the cosmos.