A reader of the Mapped Space books asked, “What kept other civilizations from claiming Earth before sentient beings evolved?” This was because it was implied in the second Mapped Space book (MS2), “In Earth’s Service”, that other alien civilizations had visited Earth long before the Human Race had evolved, yet none of those civilizations had colonized Earth.
The answer to this question is hinted at in MS2 rather than discussed in detail. The character Hadley tells Sirius Kade that the planet Hardfall had been classified as a ‘dead end world’. This was expanded upon by the following: ‘The appearance of intelligent life was random and didn’t occur on every habitable planet, but where it did, it was protected by galactic law.’
The Mapped Space Universe is not a chaotic survival of the fittest dog-eat-dog jungle as is depicted in much science fiction, but a fundamentally ‘rules based universe’ created by extremely civilized and ancient alien races that have collectively established a cooperating and lawful pan-galactic civilization which is tolerant and respectful of all species no matter how advanced. This is because rationally, ultra-advanced civilizations are likely to have evolved sophisticated laws and ethics and aggressors will tend to be destroyed by alliances that unite against a common threat. The Intruder Civilization is the case study of an ultra advanced aggressor civilization that forces peaceful civilizations to unite against it, while the Matarons are the example of an aggressor species too weak to take overtly aggressive action. Most other civilizations are lawful, working collectively and peacefully to maintain a stable order. Because aggressive civilizations will not survive long, I placed the Intruder Civilization in a globular cluster outside the galaxy proper, so it could develop in isolation to a level where it posed a genuine threat. By contrast, the Matarons are in the mainstream of galactic civilization and are forced to restrain their warlike tendencies. Indeed, one of Sirius Kade’s primary purposes is to ensure the worst members of the Human Race do not make the mistake of letting their aggressive impulses undermine mankind’s place within galactic civilization.
The general background to the Mapped Space Universe is that life has been appearing for several billion years. This is based on the abundant distribution of amino acids and sugars that are ubiquitous across the universe. We know these building blocks of life exist in the proportions they do from spectroscopic analysis of every corner of the universe, which is a key indicator that life is abundant throughout the cosmos, and is one of the reasons the Mapped Space Universe is framed the way it is.
Another is the assumption that life has been appearing for several billion years. This is based on the time scales required for stars and planets to evolve to the point where complex life could appear. Early stars lacked elements heavier than Hydrogen and Helium. It subsequently took billions of years of nucleosynthesis for the universe to evolve to a point where the basic chemistry existed to enable complex life to appear. Broadly, one may say the pre-life evolutionary time frame is approximately the Big Bang plus ten to twelve billion years, remembering the universe is reliably estimated to 13.8 billion years old, plus or minus 100 million years.
Early civilizations in the Mapped Space Universe are called Precursor Civilizations, or sometimes more colloquially, Firsts. One of the Firsts was briefly encountered in The Mothership, to complete the technological parallels in that book. There were four broad civilizational levels in The Mothership, intended to place Human Civilization in a realistic cosmic context when one considers the age and chemical evolution of the Universe.
Those four levels by technological achievement were:
(1) Australian Aborigines, representing Stone Age civilization,
(2) Contemporary Australian and American characters, representing Pre-stellar Industrial Civilization,
(3) the combatant alien civilizations representing Interstellar/Trans-Galactic Civilizations, which are assumed to comprise the great majority of civilizations in the universe, and
(4) the Firsts, representing the oldest and most advanced societies in the Universe who are Inter-Galactic / Trans-Universe Civilizations (i.e. Precursors). (Theoretically, there may be a group above this level comprising civilizations with Inter-Universe capabilities, if such is even possible, but this was not covered in The Mothership.)
The Antaran Codex indicated that conflicts between early interstellar civilizations occurred before rules governing interstellar relations had been established. After all, when the first interstellar civilizations appeared, there was no existing framework in place, which may have been a time where the 'law of the jungle' prevailed. However, common self interest and a shared appreciation for law, morality and ethics eventually led to an agreed code of conduct that created the ‘Rules Based Universe’. This is a political concept defining interactions between independent and autonomous societies at all levels of development, and one could argue is rationally the kind of universe we actually live in, even if we don’t know it yet.
If you consider the evolution of civilization on Earth, it has been a slow, but steady progress toward a worldwide rules based system that gives a place to all nations and has consequences for rogue nations that break the rules. It would seem reasonable for this general progress to continue on cosmic levels, especially when one considers the civilizations functioning on interstellar levels are more advanced than Human Civilization. They may have perfected what we are only now bringing into existence.
If the Rules Based Universe hypothesis is true, it is a very important concept not just for the Mapped Space Universe, but for the future of the Human Race. It means when the human race becomes an interstellar civilization, we will not emerge into a survival of the fittest universe – because that era is long gone – but into an established multi-lateral interstellar polity with laws that protect and constrain us.
The proof of this hypothesis is that our planet has not been conquered by vastly more advanced civilizations who have probably been visiting this planet for a very long time, quite possibly for millions of years. This suggests a commonly accepted and enforceable framework preventing the conquest of Earth.
In the Mapped Space Universe (and perhaps in reality) very old civilizations appeared so long ago, it was before Earth was habitable. An oxygen atmosphere appeared on Earth long after the planet first appeared, and long after life first may have appeared. Our oxygen atmosphere was the result of the appearance of photosynthesizing life forms which produced oxygen as a byproduct. That oxygen would have been a poison to earlier life, effectively triggering a mass extinction for any earlier life forms (if such existed).
By the time Earth was habitable in the MSU, the Precursor Civilizations had long established a rules based pan-galactic civilization. This was long before the appearance of proto humans and is where an unwritten assumption is hinted at in the books and is why Hardfall was classified as a dead end world under galactic law.
The assumption is that Precursor Civilizations mastered evolutionary biology and as a result are able to identify which lines of evolution lead to the appearance of intelligent life and which do not, i.e. an Earth verse a Hardfall. The assumption is that the genetic markers of intelligence might go all the way back to fundamental forms of life. This is based on the very specific and complex nature of DNA and cell structures, which are extremely difficult to form. The first appearance of life is likely to have been an extraordinarily rare event, and was probably RNA related, a precursor evolutionary stage to DNA.
On Earth, the evidence suggests that all life on this planet has one Common Universal Ancestor (CUA) that appeared a very long time ago. If we are able to identify genetic traits in the Common Universal Ancestor that indicate an evolutionary path leading towards intelligence, then it would be possible to determine when nascent life on a planet might lead to the rise of an intelligent life form, even if that might not occur for another half a billion years.
In a rules based universe, where super advanced civilizations have developed high ethical and legal concepts, the natural conclusion is that they not only respect all life, but respect all possible intelligent life, even if it has not yet evolved.
Assuming the appearance of any form of life is extremely rare, then the importance of panspermia should also be considered. This is the process whereby basic life is spread through space while frozen in comets and asteroids. Over millions of years, the appearance of life in one part of the universe could spread to other planets in that part of the universe via Panspermia. In the MSU, the idea is that some original life had markers leading to intelligence and others did not. If the appearance of life is rare, and markers for intelligence exist, then some regions may have evolutionary paths leading to intelligence and some not, or perhaps two panspermic distributions might even overlap.
With panspermia, it is possible that intelligent life in different parts of the universe may share a common ancestor. In the MSU, this means humans may share a common ancestor with the Tau Cetins or the Matarons or even a Precursor civilization that arose a billion years ago. Being the masters of evolutionary astrobiology, they may see their own evolutionary origins in humans.
How far the common ancestor could have spread is limited by distance, velocity and time, so there are probably multiple panspermic origin points throughout the Universe. How many will be determined by just how difficult it is for life to appear. Considering human scientists have been unable to replicate the creation of life in the laboratory, we should assume such an event is rare, or requires conditions we are unable to replicate, at least with our present understanding and technology.
If there are relatively few Common Universal Ancestors, super advanced civilizations would know what they are and how they are encoded. Consequently, they would be able to identify the markers of each type of CUA in the basic life present on new planets. For example, CUA Type 1 leads to intelligent life while CUA Type 2 does not. The law they could then frame would prohibit colonization of Type 1 planets while permitting colonization of Type 2 planets (i.e. Hardfall type dead end worlds). With such knowledge, the possibility exists that Precursor type civilizations might even seed likely planets with CUAs of one type or the other, depending on their objectives.
None of this astrobiology is mentioned in the books, but it’s part of the science underlying the Mapped Space Universe. This is why Hadley was able to say, “Hardfall’s officially classified as a dead end world.” Note, he did not say humans classified it this way. This knowledge was passed to humans with the mapping data given by the Tau Cetins. That data would say you can colonize certain dead end worlds, but not other worlds which were on their way to evolving a sentient species. Hardfall was clearly a world full of life, but it was descended from a Type 2 CUA, indicating it lacked that critical genetic ingredient leading to intelligent life.
So, Earth was protected when it became habitable because the Precursors knew it was potentially a home to future intelligent life. In the MSU, humans are descended from a Type 1 CUA. If that first life got to Earth via Panspermia, then all the nearby interstellar species might share a common ancestor, although their individual evolutionary paths took that spark of life in many different directions. Being a Type 1 life supporting world, in the Rules Based Universe, Earth was off limits to colonization in order to give its future, potential intelligent life a chance to fulfill its promise.
An additional point is that super advanced interstellar civilizations might prefer to terraform worlds ideal to their requirements rather than colonize habitable worlds. This is because terraforming a sterile world avoids the problem of hostile microbes which less advanced civilizations (like humans) are prepared to risk. Hostile microbes is a huge, and oft ignored (by science fiction) obstacle to colonization of outwardly habitable worlds. Indeed, one might argue that the more ‘habitable’ a world is, the more uninhabitable it is from a microbial perspective.
Terraforming an entire world is likely to be a very long process, much longer than science fiction usually considers. In the MSU, mankind has begun terraforming, but it is a long and slow process. In MS2, it is mentioned that New Liberty is being terraformed and will become a second Earth in a thousand years, making it a two thousand year effort. Considering it took billions of years to get Earth to the point it’s at now, even two thousand years to terraform a planet might be optimistic. The difficulty of terraforming is also likely to decline as a civilization advances, perhaps becoming a trivial undertaking for civilizations a billion years ahead of mankind.