Review: Technological Plateau by Michael Turton

What makes a society advanced? It's a question we don't ask often enough. Is it making certain that everyone has a job, even if the jobs themselves are pointless and soul crushing, or is it having technology far beyond what is needed for survival? Perhaps it's about the ability to live up to moral standards whether that be religious or simply justice and equality. Or, perhaps it is simply a matter of making the largest percentage of your society happy. I'm not sure there is a right answer, though there are certainly some wrong answers.

“Technological Plateau,” by Michael Turton is a story that indirectly asks this important question by creating a situation in which one of the more common answers is removed from the equation. A good story that is going to be all but impossible to not spoil while talking about it. If you're interested in the question read it before you read this.

The story follows two scouts on an alien world. They are there to decide if the planet is a good target for colonization. It is quite clear from the beginning of the story that it is an excellent target. The food is eatable, there are no predictors and it's temperature and atmosphere are comfortable. There is also no signs of technology which makes the political situation much easier. It is, as they point out more than once paradise. The problem comes when they notice that all the animals have stopped moving.

A few minutes later an electromagnetic effect hits the scouts. It knocks them unconscious as well as destroying all of their technology. It's also been long enough that help should have come, leaving them with the conclusion that they are on their own. Luckily, they are on paradise and know help is coming eventually so they prepare to survive and as they do come to the conclusion that this world isn't empty of intelligent life as they thought. It simply doesn't have technology as we think of it so instead the inhabitants have shaped the world to their needs.

The story stops there, but it left me with the question from the beginning of this review. Is this society with no technology actually less advanced than the interstellar race that has landed on their planet? In one way they obviously are, but though we don't see them directly it seems to me that they might be more advanced culturally. Having created a paradise it seems, from the indirect view we see of them that they likely need for little and live in harmony with their world and perhaps that's as important as having space ships.

You can read “Technological Plateau,” by Michael Turton in the January 2014 issue of Analog magazine. I have once again failed to discover a website for Michale Turton.


Note: Plateau is my spelling nemesis. If it's not in front of me I can't even spell it well enough for google to tell me the correct spelling and there aren't any good synonyms. Can't we find an easier way to spell this word. Plato seems fine to me. Perhaps plateo or platow. Anything has to be better than how it is now.