Literature: Three Worlds Collide

"The kind of classic fifties-era first-contact story that Jonathan Swift might have written, if Jonathan Swift had had a background in game theory."
Peter Watts, "In Praise of Baby-Eating"

Three Worlds Collide is a rational web novella by Eliezer Yudkowsky of the semi-firm SF variety. As previously mentioned, it is a First Contact story — it deals with the ethics and tactics associated with meeting Starfish Aliens, among other things. To some extent it also reads like a thought experiment about game theory (it was, after all, written for a blog about human rationality). Has many allusions to modern Internet memes and current ideas in the transhumanism community.

Also, swearing, naughty tentacles, and other stuff which your boss might not like.


  • Aesoptinum
  • Author Tract: Much of what transpires is an illustration of theories the author had previously posted to the same blog. See Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality for another example.
  • Blue and Orange Morality: The entire point of the story is to feature three incompatible ethical systems and how those people would communicate and change each other.
  • Boldly Coming: The Superhappies first-contact message ends with "Would you like to have sex?"
  • Culture Clash: a clash between humans and two other Starfish Alien races; the babyeaters and the superhappies with each race having a morality at complete tangents to the other two with the baby eaters doing the obvious and the superhappies being completely hedonistic. Oh, plus future humans to most present humans, since they think rape is enjoyable for both parties.
  • Deathbed Confession: The Confessor admits that he once raped and killed a young woman when he was young, and that he also had fetal alcohol syndrome.
  • Death Equals Redemption
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Future social mores aren't like 21st century ones, much like 21st century mores aren't like those of several hundred years in the past. A particular example is future humans' views on rape, which are so divorced from 21st century mores that the latter are incomprehensible to the protagonists even after being explained.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: The author made the readers earn it by demanding they invent a happy ending better than his within a deadline.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom
  • Eats Babies: Subverted and inverted by the Babyeaters — not only is the Eats Babies trope not used as a simple sign of being evil, but in the Babyeater fiction, letting too many babies live is used as a simple sign of being evil.
  • Esoteric Happy Ending: Deliberately invoked — either or both endings could be considered this, depending on your values. According to the author, the ending that involves killing billions of humans is the good one.
  • First Contact: A triangular example between Humans, Babyeaters, and Superhappies all at the same time. Justified by all three races having been attracted by an unusual cosmological phenomenon in the vicinity.
  • Gallows Humor: One of the main coping strategies of many characters in the last chapter.
  • Genetic Memory: Also sexually transmitted.
  • Getting Smilies Painted on Your Soul: What the Superhappies plan to do to the Babyeaters and humans.
  • Golden Ending: After being told to Earn Your Happy Ending, the readers came up with a plan that was even better than the best one the writer had considered.
  • Groin Attack: Played for humor.
  • Happily Ever After: The bad ending. For certain values of "happily".
  • Head Desk: By the captain when the first message from the Superhappies is shown.
  • The Hero Dies
  • Humans Are Average: Surprisingly, given how strange the aliens are, the Supperhappies stand in the same relationship to humans that humans stand to the Babyeaters.
  • Humans Through Alien Eyes
  • Infodump: I've translated the aliens' language! But before telling you what they said, let me bring you up to speed on the history of statistical language-translation methods...
  • Intentional Engrish for Funny: The humans' translation software isn't perfect, but it gets better over time. Also, some ridiculous-sounding statements that the characters assume were garbled in translation were, in fact, translated correctly.
  • In the Future, Humans Will Be One Race: Implied.
    • And, in one ending, "In The Future All Life Will Be One Race."
  • Just in Time: Deconstructed. Some of the ships that are evacuating as many people as they can don't leave in time and get fried by the supernova. They kill ten billion people because of the unknown risk that the aliens might otherwise show up in time, which there is little real basis to think would happen. Waiting six hours would have saved them. The author presents this as the correct decision.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: The third ending, "Atonement".
  • Language Equals Thought:
    • The Baby Eaters use the same word for "to eat babies" and "to be moral". This makes it rather difficult for the humans to explain that they consider baby-eating not to be moral.
    • The Superhappies use the same word for "to talk" and "to have sex", because they think and communicate by exchanging genetic material, which means talking and having sex are literally the same act to them.
  • Meaningful Name
  • Mental Affair: The "Superhappies"
  • Mental Fusion: Again, the "Superhappies"
  • Mindlink Mates: The "Superhappies" yet again
  • Mr. Exposition: Each character functions in this role at least once.
  • Multiple Endings: Including interactivity - the author announced at the split point that the true ending would be determined by whether anyone came up with the correct solution in the comments to the post before the critical update.
  • Not So Different: "They're a lot like our own children, really." That is, not only are the Babyeater children like human children, human children are like Superhappy children ... and the Superhappies feel as much revulsion for how humans treat their children as humans do for Babyeaters eating their children alive.
  • Older Than They Look: The humans have developed biotechnology which is implied to allow them to live forever.
  • Portal Network
  • Reality Ensues: Regarding First Contact.
  • Shoot the Dog: All three endings have this.
  • Shout-Out: "The aliens will consider this one of their great historical works of literature, like Hamlet or Fate/stay night..." The Superhappies also have a ship officer with the rank "kiritsugu" which is the family name of a major character from Fate/Zero who had a background role in Fate/stay night.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: The ship's Interpreter of the Market's Will. Everything they say.
  • Starfish Aliens: Including a Grotesque Gallery. Could be considered a Deconstruction considering just exactly how different the aliens are.
  • Universal Translator: Justified. The aliens send them an entire copy of the internet, and the humans use statistics to match up languages.
  • Values Dissonance: In-Universe — the plot is "Future Humans" (as different from us as a typical alien race from more typical scifi) make first contact with two utterly alien species at the same time. Then the Human command crew spend twenty-four hours discussing Values Dissonance.
  • What Is This Thing You Call Love? meets Humans Are Cthulhu: "What is 'untranslatable 2'?"
  • What You Are in the Dark: The trope is discussed in the epilogue by the main cast, after they trigger the supernova at Huygens.