Created By: Archereon on April 20, 2012 Last Edited By: Archereon on May 3, 2012
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Recursive Precursors

The Precursors to The Precursors.

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Main
Page Type:
Trope
The Protheans were not the first. They did not create the Citadel. They did not forge the Mass Relays. They merely found them, the legacy of my kind.
Sovereign, Mass Effect

The Precursors are a staple of a great many Sci-Fi and Fantasy settings. While Precursors come in many different varieties, the defining aspect of The Precursors is that they existed in the time before a setting's contemporary civilization.

Recursive Precursors occur when the concept of A Precursor is applied recursively; such beings served a similar role to The Precursors as they do to contemporary civilizations. The odds are surprisingly high that The Precursors to The Precursors had even had another race that served as their own Precursors, and so on, forming a long line of ancient civilizations faster than you can say Yo Dawg...

Of course, having a long series Precursor races carries some Disturbing Implications. Beyond the fact that The Precursors existed in the time before the setting's present civilizations, another important aspect of The Precursors is that they are no longer around, due to Precursor Killers, being Sealed In A Can Of Some Sort, Ascending to some sort of higher reality, dying out for mundane reasons, and so on. While the last two options are certainly a possibility, when dealing with large number of Recursive Precursors, there's generally a not so pleasant reason for all of them not being around, which has some odds of being One Of Their Own.

Naturally, this is a Sub-Trope of The Precursors. When Creating Life is involved, this trope is highly compatible with Recursive Creators, but is otherwise not related to other "Recursive Tropes" such as Recursive Reality and Recursive Fanfiction.


Examples:

Anime and Manga:
  • In Gall Force: Eternal Story, the Solnoids are the precursors of humanity; in Gall Force: Stardust War it's also revealed that the Solnoids also have precursors. Finally, in Gall Force: New Era, it's revealed that due to a Stable Time Loop, all the races in the story are each other's precursors.

Film

Literature

  • In Carl Sagan's novel Contact, when the humans make First Contact the Sufficiently Advanced Aliens who sent them the blueprints for the device used to access the setting's Portal Network, they reveal that they were not the original creators of said Portal Network. It is also revealed that whatever being(s) did create the Portal Network had ''their own Precursor(s) the creator(s) of the universe-who may be God- left a message in the form of the numerical sequence of π.
  • David Brin's Uplift series. The original Precursors, the Progenitors, existed a billion years ago. They uplifted non-sapient races into intelligent beings. The races they created themselves uplifted more species, and the process has continued to the present day.
  • In Larry Niven's Known Space universe, there are two sets of precursors. First there were the Thrintun (AKA "Slavers"), who seeded the galaxy with the ingredients of life so it would grow and evolve into unique delicacies for them to eat (being hypnotic slavers, they were defeated by the Tnuctipun in the inevitable Turned Against Their Masters, and they took all sentient life with them. Talk about bad parenting). Then there were the Pak, a race of more recent aliens with three life stages (child, breeder, Protector) only sentient in the third stage, and programmed to be homicidal to anything that could conceivably threaten their descendants (mutations were not recognized). Earth was a Lost Colony of them who couldn't advance to Protector stage when their supply of tree-of-life root ran out due to a lack of thallium in Earth's soil.

Live-Action Television

  • Babylon 5: Lorien and the rest of his kind were this to the other First Ones, like the Vorlons and the Shadows.
  • Battlestar Galactica: The People of Kobol were Precursors to the People of Earth and the 12 Colonies, but there was presumably no one before them unless you count whatever "It" is that doesn't like being called "God" and the Head People.
  • In Doctor Who, we have The Eternals, some of which were apparently the seldom mentioned gods of Gallifrey; Precursors to the Time Lords who are themselves (sometimes) cited as the reason for there being so many races of Human Aliens, Rubber-Forehead Aliens, and Humanoid Aliens in the Whoniverse.
  • In Red Dwarf it is speculated that all life in the universe originated on Earth, with humans acting as The Precursors to countless other races, who in turn acted as Recursive Precursors to even more sentient creatures.
  • In the Stargate-verse, the Goa'uld were originally thought to be the ones who had built the Stargate network, come to Earth to find slaves, and built the Pyramids to land their spaceships. SG-1 quickly discovers that while the Goa'uld were indeed the ones on Earth thousands of years ago, the Stargates were actually built by their precursors, the Ancients, millions of years ago. Stargate Universe revealed that the Ancients had found signs of their own Precursors (or God), but the series ended before they could be revealed.
  • The Star Trek Expanded Universe is full of these. There's all the uberpowerful noncorporeal life, and the ancient humanoid preservers, and a hundred or so other ancient powerful empires.

Mythology
  • In Greek Mythology the first major figures are Gaia and Uranus, whose children were the Titans, many monsters, and the Gold race of men who died out by not reproducing. Then Cronos, the leader of the Titans, castrated Uranus and overthrew him, then Cronos' kids overthrew him (yeah, they've kind of got a children killing their parents theme here). Also Zeus created the Silver race of men, but they were too warlike and he had to destroy them, so Prometheus made the Bronze race who were our ancestors.
  • Norse Mythology is kind of similar, with Odin and his brothers killing the primeval giant Ymir, making the world out of his body, and instituting the rule of the Aesir.

Video Games

Tabletop Games

  • In Warhammer 40,000, Eldar are a borderline example of a Precursor Race, in which case their creators, the Old Ones, would be Recursive Precursors as well, alongside the Necrontyr/Necrons, and the C'tan Star Gods.
  • Forgotten Realms elves dominated Faerun before they torn both continent and their civilizations apart in Crown Wars, which left them weakened and gradually displaced by Dwarven and Giant kingdoms and then humans. But the Elves in turn took the world from Dragons' claws. That's where we switch from merely mythical era to the Time Abyss of Creator Races about whom little is known: Dragons knocked birdlike Aearee out of Toril's sky... and before their time there were Batrachi, Sarrukh and Fey.
  • Eberron has a long history of being ruled by demons, then dragons, then giants, then goblinoids (in Khorvaire), then finally the common races. Some of them are still around to some extent, from the Dragons of Argonessen to the Demon Wastes to whatever is happening in the depths of Khyber.
Community Feedback Replies: 24
  • April 20, 2012
    fulltimeD
    The Star Trek Expanded Universe is full of these. There's all the uberpowerful noncorporeal life, and the ancient humanoid preservers, and a hundred or so other ancient powerful empires.
  • April 21, 2012
    Archereon
    Any specific examples?
  • April 22, 2012
    Koveras
    Maybe this example would count?

    • The precursors of the contemporary object of worship ("The Maker") in the Dragon Age series, were the seven Old Gods of Tevinter. Their precursors were the nine Elven gods ("Creators"), and their precursors were the Forgotten Ones.
  • April 22, 2012
    Arivne
    Literature
    • David Brin's Uplift series. The original Precursors, the Progenitors, existed a billion years ago. They uplifted non-sapient races into intelligent beings. The races they created themselves uplifted more species, and the process has continued to the present day.
  • April 22, 2012
    fulltimeD
    Babylon Five: Lorien and the rest of his kind were this to the other First Ones, like the Vorlons and the Shadows.
  • April 26, 2012
    Archereon
    Would the C'tan from 40k count?

    Also I get the feeling there's a Battlestar Galactica example...

    Probably Stargate as well.
  • April 26, 2012
    nman
    • In the Stargate Verse, the Goa'uld were originally thought to be the ones who had built the Stargate network, come to Earth to find slaves, and built the Pyramids to land their spaceships. SG-1 quickly discovers that while the Goa'uld were indeed the ones on Earth thousands of years ago, the Stargates were actually built by their precursors, the Ancients, millions of years ago. Stargate Universe revealed that the Ancients had found signs of their own Precursors (or God), but the series ended before they could be revealed.
  • April 26, 2012
    Archereon
    Considering how trope saturated it is, Doctor Who HAS to have this somewhere.
  • April 27, 2012
    TBeholder
    • Forgotten Realms elves dominated Faerun before they torn both continent and their civilizations apart in Crown Wars, which left them weakened and gradually displaced by Dwarven and Giant kingdoms and then humans. But the Elves in turn took the world from Dragons' claws. That's where we switch from merely mythical era to the Time Abyss of Creator Races about whom little is known: Dragons knocked birdlike Aearee out of Toril's sky... and before their time there were Batrachi, Sarrukh and Fey.
  • April 27, 2012
    Archereon
    Hey, anyone knowledgeable about Greek mythology? I know that the titans came before the gods, and before the tians there was also something else, but I'm not quite sure exactly how far back that goes.
  • April 27, 2012
    BrentLaabs
    Norse Mythology is kind of similar, with Odin and his brothers killing the primeval giant Ymir, making the world out of his body, and instituting the rule of the Aesir.

  • April 27, 2012
    zarpaulus
    In Greek Mythology it was first Gaia and Uranus, whose children were the Titans, many monsters, and the Gold race of men who died out by not reproducing. Then Cronos, the leader of the Titans, castrated Uranus and overthrew him, then Cronos' kids overthrew him (yeah, they've kind of got a children killing their parents theme here). Also Zeus created the Silver race of men, but they were too warlike and he had to destroy them, so Prometheus made the Bronze race who were our ancestors.
  • April 28, 2012
    Archereon
    So does this page look about ready to launch?
  • April 28, 2012
    fulltimeD
    re: Battlestar Galactica--- assuming you are talking about the reimagined 2000's series...

    The People of Kobol were Precursors to the People of Earth and the 12 Colonies, but there was presumably no one before them unless you count whatever "It" is that doesn't like being called "God" and the Head People.
  • April 28, 2012
    nman
    Say, now that I think about it, the page quote a spoiler. In addition, it's rather packed with terms that someone who hasn't played the games.
  • April 28, 2012
    Archereon
    It Was His Sled is in full effect here; pretty much everyone who knows about Mass Effect knows about the reapers, and if they learn about mass effect, chances are they'll learn about the reapers as well, and the fact that they created the Citadel and Relays. It's pretty easy to infer from the phrasing (and the fact that this is a Sub Trope of The Precursors) that the Citadel and relays are a form of Lost Technology attributed to these "protheans", which is obviously a name of a race.

    Alternatively, I know for a fact that Liara T'soni has a conversation to this effect, when discussing how the galaxy is "Built on a cycle of extinction." Might be better, but her quotes are never as awesome as Sovereign's.
  • April 28, 2012
    SharleeD
    "Recursive" almost makes it sound like you've got the same two species/cultures that keep alternating back and forth, one being civilized and the other being primitive, and each taking a turn supplanting the other. Something like "Pre-Precursors" might better convey the idea that it's the Precursors of the Precursors, not recursion in the cyclic sense.
  • April 28, 2012
    FrodoGoofballCoTV
    Anime and Manga:
    • In Gall Force: Eternal Story, the Solnoids are the precursors of humanity; in Gall Force: Stardust War it's also revealed that the Solnoids also have precursors. Finally, in Gall Force: New Era, it's revealed that due to a Stable Time Loop, all the races in the story are each other's precursors.

    Video Games:
    • In Homeworld, the anchient Hiigarans left their warp core to be discovered by the Kushans 3000 years later. But the Anchient Hiigarans never built the core, they found it. It was made by a still older race known only as the Precursors, who, according to legend, are said to have originated from beyond the galaxy.
  • April 28, 2012
    Tuckerscreator
    I agree with Sharlee D. Pre-Precursors or Precursor's Precursors gets the idea along better.
  • April 29, 2012
    Archereon
    re·cur·sive/riˈkərsiv/ Adjective:

    1. Characterized by recurrence or repetition, in particular. 2. Relating to or involving the repeated application of a rule, definition, or procedure to successive results.
  • May 2, 2012
    Archereon
    So now what
  • May 2, 2012
    TheEvenPrime
    ^ We decide the name and after that, launch it. At least I think this is ready. Recursive Precursors sounds good to me.
  • May 3, 2012
    Archereon
    I think the name is fine too.

    Anyone care to provide the fifth hat?
  • May 3, 2012
    nman
    ^Boom.
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