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In space based sci-fi universes, whenever we may see the distant past or future (relative to the original setting), the technology present never seems to be any more or less advanced, no matter how far you go in either direction. Even if itís hundreds of years, they still have the same warp drives
, matter replicators
, or whatever the setting contains.
This is presumably done either because the writer included the most advanced tech he/she could think of in the first installment and thus has no where else to go
, or because significantly changing the tech level would mean changing the way the stories would have to work.
Compare with Medieval Stasis
, where the technology stagnates at a lower level or the low level technology is the reason for the stagnation, and Modern Stasis
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- In the world of Buck Godot Zapgun For Hire, species who make it into space tend to slow down their development.
"Some races never pull out of this period, and have remained quiet background players for millennia, unlike more dynamic races that burst upon the galactic scene, and attempt to found empires, evolve into higher forms, reveal shattering new religious, philosophical, cosmological or mathematical systems or sell something. Therefore, unlike most of these dynamic young races, they will probably be around for more than a few millennia before being wiped out or forgotten."
- In Marvel Comics, advanced beings such as the Celestials have been around since before the Earth was formed but stories that take place thousands of years ago show them more or less using the same technology. Galactus is an even bigger example since he is older than the universe itself but still rides around on the same moon-sized ship. A possible justification for this is that the Celestials and Galactus are advanced to the point of no longer needing improvements.
- As mentioned below, the Star Wars comics series often take place hundreds, if not, thousands of years in the past but the technology still seems to be relatively the same. For instance, fans can easily look at certain ships and make out their future equivalents.
- Averted heavily in certain Tales of the Jedi volumes, especially The Golden Age of the Sith and The Fall of the Sith Empire. Things are given a mouch rougher, more primitive design—for instance, lightsabers are ornately carved and actually plug into the belt when not in use, and instead of a dashboard full of buttons and lights, a starship's hyperdrive control is a spinning dial around a crystal centerpiece. However, Knights of the Old Republic, set not long afterwards, discards this presumably for the sake of the graphics being easy to render.
- The Alien franchise. The tech in Alien: Resurrection seems startlingly similar to the first movie when you consider that they are set 258 years apart .
- Star Wars. Technology is largely the same between the prequel and original trilogies, with the only visible changes being minor advances in prosthetics and holograms.
- Then again, the entire film series only covers about 50-60 years, and military technology does appear to have advanced modestly during that time (in some cases, it regressed—the absence of battle droids in Episodes IV-VI, for example). The Star Wars universe may have reached a technological plateau, possibly caused by the near-continuous warfare hindering any pure scientific research.
- The technology of the Predators is never seen to advance, even when their appearances are hundreds of years apart. The Expanded Universe justifies this by explaining that a long time ago the Predators' society became all about the hunt, and they lost all interest in intellectual pursuits.
- There is a sometimes-canon and sometimes-not explanation that their tech is stolen from an older race that attempted to occupy their planet. They can replicate and adapt it, but lack the understanding of its base principles to improve on it.
- An easier explanation is that the only Predators we see are hunters who explicitly show "sportsmanlike" behavior, including killing only armed opponents and sparing, for example, pregnant women. It follows that the crazy-superior tech they are using is what they consider fair. Their tech may be better, but what is "fair" to use on the humans hasn't changed in hundreds of years. Much the same way some humans often still use bows to hunt deer rather than carpet-bombing them from the stratosphere.
- Hinted in the current comics to be this, as it's about a clan of Predators who don't follow the hunter's code of honor.
- Averted in A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, where at the end after millenia, the robots have evolved into the dominant lifeform on the planet
- In Dune human society has been suspicious of technology since the Butlerian Jihad over 10,000 years before the first book. However after Leto II's death and the breakup of the empire many scattered colonies advance rapidly.
- Used as a central plot point in Vernor Vinge's Across Realtime trilogy. In the first novel, the protagonists set out to remove the current government of Earth due to technological progress being outlawed and society stagnating (ironically, that policy is enforced with a stasis bubble weapon). In the third novel, a group of survivors have missed The Singularity and are stuck with only a handful of very advanced robots and tools that they cannot rebuild, effectively making further advances impossible.
- In Philip K Dick's short story Pay for the Printer, humans have stopped building or researching anything and instead choose to rely on alien replicators to make copies of items they already possess.
- It's not quite clear how much technology has advanced in the three thousand years between Enders Game and Speaker for the Dead since the latter largely takes place on a backwater colony world, but the most visible difference is that ship drives capable of instantaneous acceleration to relativistic speed (experimental when Ender left the Solar system) have become commonplace. Might be justified by the limitations of slower-than-light travel.
- And yet Starways Congress warships still, for some reason, need to decelerate for a long time in order to enter orbit, and the Park Shift is not mentioned in that novel at all.
- Isaac Asimov's Foundation series is a complex example.
- At the height of the Galactic Empire, technology was FTL, a central planet was a multilevel city with diverse cultures and goals, defying Planet of Hats, despite the rest of the galaxy being recognized as having them. But because technology was so advanced, people were convinced The Singularity had been reached, and stopped studying the sciences. Which meant their culture was losing the ability to do maintanence (preventative or repairing). After a few centuries or millennia, the technology would be destroyed.
- In-Universe legends tell future galactic citizens that Hari Seldon realized this, and created The Plan. A plan that would restore the civilization after a mere 1,000 years, instead of the predicted 30,000.
- The plan involved sending a group of librarians/editors to a backwater planet at the edge of the milky way. An unwanted planet because of the scarcity of materials and distance from center. These flaws forced the colonists to adapt their technology to work better. Eventually, their technology created The Singularity in reference to a planet of psychic-powered elites, and a planet of communal intelligence. This three away tie of tech, psychic individuals, and a psychic planet was the climax of Foundation's Edge.
- Downplayed in the Alex Benedict series. Firebird states that humanity has mastered higher physics and, though there are occasional advances (somebody develops a somewhat faster FTL drive, for example), for the most part there's not much in the way of new tech being developed anymore.
- In Arthur C. Clarke's 3001, the final sequel to his 2001, a 3001-version-of-TV presenter opines that a person from the year 2000 would have a much easier time of adjusting were he to be suddenly plopped into the year 3000 than a year 1000 man would adjusting to 2000, since the 3000 level of tech is relatively similar to the 2000 time, compared to the 1000-2000 difference. Not long after that Frank Poole, Dave Bowman's crewmember from the Odyssey, is discovered frozen floating in space and is brought back to life.
- Definitely averted in the Noon Universe: in the Far Rainbow, an entire planet's population dies because there was only one starship that could evacuate people and they loaded the children on it; by the time of The Kid from Hell (still within the same century), anyone can pretty much grow their own semi-organic starships from eggs in their backyard.
- Such a stasis is also arguably the main theme and plot point of another Yulia Latynina novel: Inhuman, which is set in the dystopian interstellar Empire of Humans where, according to one of the characters, no technological advances were made for the last several centuries. The, uh, antagonists (both sides involved are villains by most measures), effectively an alien conspiracy masquerading as a government conspiracy, want to remedy this.
- The Lizards in Harry Turtledove's Worldwar novels have been technologically stagnant for nearly 50,000 years, as have been the other alien species they conquered and subjugated in that time. Their leaders are quite surprised when, in the mere 800 years between their first reconnaissance flights over Earth in the 12th century and the arrival of their invasion fleet in 1942, that the human race has gone from horseback to radar, and continues to develop during the invasion. In the historical blink of an eye-turret, the humans develop rocketry and start building space stations.
- It's also stated in the books that their slow technological development is at least in part on purpose. When something new is invented or discovered, it is introduced into their society over the course of decades or centuries, so they can study its impact on society.
- In the final book, one hundred years later the Lizards are only just beginning to consider what the difference in advancement might mean to their future when the first Earth FTL ship arrives in orbit of their homeworld. The Lizards didn't think faster-than-light travel was possible and haven't thought about it, or even considered it, in their 50,000 year history.
- An important plot point in Dan Simmons Hyperion Cantos is the fact that the Hegemony of Man is culturally and technologically stagnant, albeit with AI-given toys, while the Ouster "barbarians" have continued to progress.
- In Larry Niven's Kzinti histories. The Kzin aren't terribly intelligent to begin with, and gained the great majority of their technology by rising up against their Jotok masters and offing most of them, and in a universe without FTL technology, it takes a long time for things to propagate over several hundred light-years of empire. Imperial standardization as well as simple physics kept the Kzin at a very, very, painfully minuscule level of advancement. The Kzin even have a priest-like caste called the Conservers Of The Ancient Past, whose job is to prevent unneeded change. After losing the first couple wars with humanity, however, they become much more motivated to advance, even acquiring hyperdrive shortly after Earth does.
- The faster-than-light engine does that to societies in Harry Turtledove's The Road Not Taken. The most advanced of those (stuck in Napoleonic times, technologically) attacks 20th century Earth. It was a short invasion.
- Averted in the Lensman series, where the war and the weapons tech progresses from interstellar to intergalactic to interdimensional.
- David Brin's Uplift series explicitly plants the Galactic civilization in the middle of this trope. After hundreds of millions of years, their opinion is that everything that can be discovered has already been discovered. What makes humans special is their drive to continue discovery.
- Partly played straight in Andrey Livadny's The History of the Galaxy setting that spans about 1500 years of human space exploration. While there are technological advancements, there are also centuries where nothing appears to change much from the time before. This is surprising, considering that some novels are focused on radical new technologies and their effect on society and warfare. And the argument about "everything has already been discovered" doesn't apply as a number of Precursor races and ruins have been found whose level of technology vastly surpasses that of the humans (i.e. there is room for a lot of improvement). Basically, you can pick up a book set in 2607 and one set in 3867 and see a good number of the same pieces of technology with little in terms of improvement.
- In The Course of Empire and The Crucible of Empire, the Jao have almost no new technology. However, this is mostly because they were a race of Slave Mooks that revolted ages in the past and their masters had not seen fit to engineer imagination into them. In fact, one of the aspects of their relation with their new human vassals is that Humans Advance Swiftly and can therefore provide assistance in that department.
- The Culture first appear with god-like AIs, Casual Interstellar Travel, robot drones that count as people, vast space habitats and all the comforts of being Sufficiently Advanced Aliens and aren't substantially different eight hundred later. But then, they've basically reached the pinnacle of technological advancement possible given the constraints of universal physics. The only way to get past these constraints is to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence, but the Culture, unlike many other advanced species, is not in any hurry to do so on a species-wide scale, as it believes that would involve unacceptable amounts of coercion. Still, many individuals in the Culture, bored of immortality, undergo this individually as a form of Seen-It-All Suicide.
- Greg Egan's Orthogonal trilogy features a small-scale, justified, and very unusual example that lasts about three years and Makes Much More Sense In Context. In The Arrows of Time, when the inhabitants of the Peerless construct a messaging system that allows them to send messages back in time, it results in the inability of anyone to come up with any new technological or scientific advances. This is pretty significant when you consider that up to this point, they have progressed from technology based on clockwork and combustion engines (or the equivalent thereof) to photonics (read: electronics) and nearly-Perpetual Motion Machines that are powered directly by light — all within six generations of the launch. Expand the note for the spoileriffic and VERY lengthy explanation given In-Universe. spoileriffic note
Live Action TV
- An interesting variant appears in Stargate SG-1, in which the Goa'uld are shown in ancient Egypt sequences as using the same technology as they do in the regular episodes. In the time that humans went from simple bows to nuclear missiles, the Goa'uld haven't added trigger guards to their guns. This is justified by Goa'uld culture being antithetical to good scientific practice (although Goa'uld scientists like Nirrti and Nerus do exist), and all their technology being stolen anyway, but to be this extreme, they need to be quite the Planet of Hats.
- It's shown a few times that some isolated worlds, free from Goa'uld control, had actually advanced further, technologically, than humans on Earth.
- Better yet, in the episode "Line in the Sand" a Power Crystal from an Ori weapon is used to power an Ancient cloaking device. They use an adapter, but Carter still says the reason it works is that "Ancient and Ori technology is similar," despite that the two civilizations were isolated from each other for fifty million years. This is somewhat justified, however, as the Ori were obviously not the intrepid scientists the Ancients were. The split occurred when the Ancients were near the height of their development anyway, and technological repression was in full effect. Considering that the Stargates were canonically invented by Ancients after the split yet they have a working network, it would be fair to say that the Ori simply used Ancient knowledge to build their stuff.
- Justification is given in show that the Goa'uld don't want the primitive humans and Jaffa under their rule to have any understanding of how their tech works, as it's better for the ignorant masses to think that tech is "Magic," that only their god/goddess can activate.
- Strangely enough, this is averted by the titular Stargates themselves. The gates in the Pegasus and Milky Way galaxies are visibly different, reflecting different periods of Ancient design. The gates seeded in the galaxies Destiny is traveling through function visibly differently, and are implied or stated to be some of the very first Stargates ever built.
- Star Trek: The various shows of the franchise span centuries: Star Trek: Enterprise is set in the 22nd century, Star Trek: The Original Series is set about a century later, and Star Trek: The Next Generation — roughly a century after that. Yet the basic technology used on each show remains the same. There is some change, but most of it is either purely cosmetic, or restricted to creating more efficient or more powerful versions of already-existing devices (and often this is a sort of Informed Ability — there's no real way to learn how a 24th century phaser compares to one from two centuries earlier, but they certainly seem to do the same thing as far as the viewer can tell). The phaser guns, warp drives, and even transporters used in the 24th century seem to be essentially the same devices as those used in the 22nd. In some cases, even when we're told the later devices are more advanced, it seems to have no impact on the plot — for example, the viewer is certainly told that the 22nd century version of the Enterprise is slower than the 24th century version, but that doesn't prevent the earlier ship from exploring all sorts of exotic and unfamiliar locations that the later ship never visits, so the basic plot of visiting a brand-new Planet of Hats every week remains unchanged. For practical purposes, both ships travel at the Speed of Plot.
- In BattleTech, a series of violent civil wars have destroyed almost all the factories for Battlemechs, and the equipment that goes into them. Battlemechs from 500 years ago are more advanced than the ones being built at the time. ComStar is dedicated to retrieving LosTech and preserving/worshiping it.
- This is eventually subverted as the timeline progresses. By the time of the FedCom Civil War and Word of Blake Jihad, the Inner Sphere powers have rediscovered and even improved upon Star League technology, or invented entirely new equipment.
- And averted by the Clans, who brought the Star League's technology with them when they left and have actually improved on it.
- The Warhammer 40,000 game setting is another sci-fi example of this trope: thanks to the Imperium of Man's Cargo Cult approach to maintaining technology and its leaders' unshakable belief that the Status Quo Is God, or rather that God is Status Quo, human technology and culture have remained largely unchanged for the past ten thousand years. The worlds of the Imperium are not all in close contact, so they can vary all the way from ray-guns-and-flying-cars futuristic to wood-and-stone primitives as the story demands.
- This has bitten the Imperium in the ass on occasion. In one case a planetary purge and colonization was postponed indefinitely (due to a violent warp storm that enveloped the planet) abandoning the spear-wielding natives that would become the Tau for almost 6,000 yearsnote They were more than a bit surprised when said spear-wielding natives showed up on some of their frontier colonies with railguns and plasma rifles. Their "techno-sorcery" is often noted as more advanced that the Imperium's equipment.
- The Eldar, as well as being quasi-immortal, have been trapped in a decadent, decaying culture since The Fall; expending their very limited resources on simply maintaining their existence in a universe where Everything Is Trying to Kill You.
- Ork culture is far too chaotic and violent to ever manage to develop very far and their basic technology is innate knowledge coded in their genes. That said, they have managed to develop rough-and-ready tractor beams and mass teleporters that are much more effective (if more dangerous to the user) than any other race's equivalents quite recently in the current setting. Of course, Orks aren't driven by the desire for improved life or scientific inquiry, they just want More Dakka. And most of their "technology" literally runs on enough Orks believing it works.
- The Necrontyr turned themselves into mindless automatons serving Cosmic Horrors. On the other hand, they are so far ahead of everyone else already that it hardly matters. The armies used on the tabletop are scouts and raiding parties; their full-powered war machines aren't even reactivated yet.
- Traveller did this twice. Once it was a deliberate act of social engineering by the rulers of the First Imperium who thought it necessary for order. The second time, during the later Third had reasons unexplained.
- There was some fiddling with this; one try was that the Imperium is so big that no local innovation goes very far and getting the capital to change technology on an Imperial level is very difficult, while low tech-level worlds find it easier just to import. There are however plenty of imaginitive variants of old designs in the Third Imperium and unlike the First Imperium there is no official policy of suppression with the exception of specific forbidden or discouraged categories like psionics.
- In Fading Suns the Urth Orthodox church considers technology to be sinful and blames it for the fall of the Second Republic over a thousand years ago. In addition the only known extant alien race with more advanced technology, the Vau, haven't shown any technological advancement since they were contacted centuries ago.
- In Mutant Chronicles, technology advancement has come to a standstill, this is due to the Dark Symmetry causing computers to go haywire, leaving the MegaCorps stuck in a Diesel Punk state.
- In Knights of the Old Republic, there are no noticeable technological differences (except the use of swords) with the society depicted in the Star Wars film franchise, despite the series being set thousands of years in the past.
- In Halo the Covenant got all their advanced technology from reverse-engineering Forerunner tech, and are stated to have never actually learned higher mathematics. Also not helping is their near-40k level of religious refusal to improve on what they have. Cleanly averted by humanity, however, which continually innovates throughout the franchise to improve their odds of survival.
- The Mass Effect universe has a zig-zagging example of the trope. On one hand, technology doesn't seem to have advanced too much since the Council started inhabiting the Citadel. On the other hand, we do know that it is advancing technologically, as more powerful "heat sink," based weapons are the norm by the second game, as well as omni-gel proof systems, and by Mass Effect 3, Mech suits and omnitool lightsabers have come into practice. On the gripping hand, everything about the technology in the Mass Effect universe is a trap. Everything is reverse engineered from technology left behind by the Protheans, who reverse engineered the tech from another race that came before them, who did the same thing to the previous race, and so on and so forth. The entire tech base is a trap set by the Reapers, who use organic life to further their own technology before taking anything good, while having the benefit of millions of years of development to crush anything in their path.
- On the FOURTH hand you have the geth, the machine race that happen to not only have the most advanced technology (aside from the Reapers) and progress at the fastest rate, but since they believe in self determination, all of their tech is of their own design, and may be the only suitable counter against the Reapers.
- In Schlock Mercenary five hundred year old Ob'enn military tech is nearly identical to their current technology, and on par with all but the most cutting edge UNS gear.