What do we, and our culture or “tribe,” keep from the past? What do we remember and/or preserve, and why? Family stories, usually about great events, odd events, “that” cousin or aunt ( you know, the one that the older folks use as a horrible warning and the younger ones kinda admire for daring to be strange/rebellious/independent), this we recall. As a town or congregation we recall major events and often perpetuate stories about grand pioneers and the founders of our group. But if things get rough, what is kept, carefully preserved for the future?
The question came up because of a reviewer’s complaint about Elizabeth of Starland involving the strange combinations of lost and preserved technology. The reviewer got thrown out of the book by having electric lights in the Babenburg palace but nowhere else, and having gunpowder weapons but no steam engines. How, the reviewer wanted to know, could someone preserve an electrical generator but lose basic steam technology and other information?
You could ask a similar question about the Romans and the peoples of the High Middle Ages. Enough books and manuscripts, and buildings and water systems, survived for later people to be able to see what the Romans had done, and to read (for those who could read) about how to administer a water system (for example). But almost 600 years passed between the “fall of Rome” and the flying buttress, for example. The Byzantine/Eastern Roman Empire was a little different, but again, they kept some things and lost others. The conventional argument used to be that well, the Dark Ages were superstitious, illiterate, and the barbarians, aided by the Church, kept knocking people over every time they tried to reinvent concrete. Now many historians and archaeologists argue that pockets of tech remained, but that the combination of frequent tribal movement (i.e. the Burgundians, Angles, Saxons, Jutes, Baiuvari, Avars, Huns, and Magyars, among others), the inability to organize large groups (and until the onset of the Medieval Warm Period, to feed large groups) kept people from building and recreating Roman things until the 1000s and 1100s.
That’s what I envision happening on ColPlat XI. In the wake of the Great Fires, you had a few places with the right combination of pre-modern technology, organizational skills, and defensive ability to preserve some knowledge and tech. But that knowledge depended on who printed out what. Vindobona had a large proportion of military and civil engineering types, and some Mennonites, living in and around the city, and they opted to print out military books, some basic engineering things (how to maintain a water system), and the like. But what they didn’t have was a large population base, especially not ten or twenty years after Colonial Plantation LTD abandoned the colony. Things wore out, couldn’t be replaced or repaired, and were lost. People focused on the basics: food, shelter, defense. Warfare and disease swept the large cities for reasons described in detail in Fountains of Mercy.
So it is certainly possible that the Babenburgs might have a few generators and light bulbs left (as we will see in Circuits and Crises) but society has lost the ability to organize the people and resources to recreate steam engines. If no one thought to print out files about steam power, and the metallurgy required to produce the boilers and tooling, it will have to be rediscovered. Like Roman concrete, or Greek Fire (which we still don’t have an exact recipe for). And with low populations that are slowly rebuilding, it would be quite a while until even the Eastern Empire reached that point. Like the monks recopying texts they found especially valuable – religious texts, a few building guides – the survivors of the Great Fires and the chaos that followed saved what they thought, at that moment, were the most important.
And then there’s the question of what power the Babenburgs obtained from having those bits of tech . . .