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Literature / Mother Earth

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First published in Astounding Science Fiction (May 1949 issue), by Isaac Asimov. This Science Fiction Novelette is part of the Robot Series series, representing the transition between the robot stories where Earth feared robots and the Elijah Bailey stories where Earth is covered in megacities, with billions of inhabitants in The Caves of Steel.

Earth has fifty colony worlds that have all built their own planetary governments and developed a sense of superiority when compared to the people who remain on Earth. They are literally taller, with better genes and fewer illnesses. Aurora is the first colony and retains a position of leadership amongst the fifty Outer Worlds. Most of the six billion people on Earth would enjoy emigrating to these planetary nations to experience acres of privacy, but they've greatly restricted their immigration policies.

Earth's government finds this position untenable, and they create the Pacific Project to solve their problem. Aurora hears about it and begins investigating their government members who might be disloyal enough to assist Earth in carrying it out. Bellicose elements on the Outer Worlds resent the inferior Earthmen's demands, and when the homeworld sends a message demanding that Aurora, Tethys, and Rhea be snubbed for their plots to curtail economic trade with Earth, causing them to enact ever-more restrictive trading rules.

Chafing under the trade restrictions, Earth lets the other governments know that five smuggling spaceships have been captured, including one with a crew from Aurora. For breaking the trade restrictions, the Terrestrian government imprisoned them and confiscated their cargo. Angered that the inferior Earthmen would dare imprison Outer World citizens, they declare war against Earth. It takes just under three weeks from the first declaration of war to Earth's decision to capitulate in the face of overwhelming military strength.

The rest of the Novelette deals with the fallout from the incredibly short war, informing Ernest Keilin of what the Pacific Project actually entails because he will be the next President of Earth.

"Mother Earth" has been republished several times; Journey To Infinity (1951), Three From Out There (1959), Eight Science Fiction Stories (1964), Gamma (issue #72, 1972), The Early Asimov (1972), Urania (issue #630, October 1973), SF Magazine (issue #300, June 1983), and Heyne Science Fiction Jahresband 1985.

"Mother Earth" provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Several new technologies have been developed in this version of The Future, including Casual Interstellar Travel and community-wave. Not only has Earth been unified, but fifty additional worlds have been colonized. Each world is Terraformed and has its own planetary government.
  • Batman Gambit: A team of Earth's psychologists design the Pacific Project, a course of diplomatic actions based on the psyche of the Outer Worlders. Each step of the plan brings the Outer Worlds closer to declaring war on Earth:
    • Earth leaked (fake) news of the Pacific Project to Ion Moreanu of Aurora, one of the few people sympathetic to Earth's plight. His government illegally arrests him, improving the political position for independence from Earth.
    • When the Outer Worlds have an interplanetary meeting, amoung their topics of discussion is Earth. Earth's government sends a public message decrying Aurora, Tethys, and Rhea for plotting economic and military sanctions against Earth, which provokes the delegations into unanimous action. They begin with trade embargoes and increase the restrictions until almost zero trade occurs.
    • Life on Earth has become even more strained with the economic stressors, but the government has upheld the interstellar rules of trade. When they announce the capture of five Outer World smugglers, however, Aurora and the others are offended and declare war.
    • The war itself lasts only three weeks, with Earth quickly capitulating in the face of overwhelming force. This story ends while the psychologists behind the Pacific Project believe that by having Earth sequestered from the Outer Worlds, it will drive Earthmen to seek revenge, improving their robot and physical sciences while accelerating the mutations causing planetary quirks amoung the ex-colony worlds. They expect the Outer Worlds will respond to the increase in diversity by becoming less racist. The next story in this setting is The Caves of Steel, where the psychologists turn out completely wrong. All fifty-one worlds have become more indolent in the centuries since and the Outer Worlds have developed planet-wide quirks, but they've only become more xenophobic and isolationist.
  • Benevolent Conspiracy: The Pacific Project is a three-stage conspiracy by a handful of Earthmen:
    1. Capitalize on the superiority-complex of the Outer Worlds by provoking them to unify against the "inferior" Earthmen.
    2. Provoke the Outer Worlds into a war which they win easily and quickly, causing resentment and desire for revenge within the general population of Earth.
    3. Wait... for a century, even. Each of the colonized worlds are imperfectly terraformed, and will develop unique mutations. Meanwhile, Earth will unite and prepare a Terrestrian Empire that is ready to evolve into a Galactic Empire.
  • Casual Interstellar Travel: Earth has colonized roughly fifty worlds within one hundred parsecs of itself. Roughly, because Hesperus (the furthest of the new planets) is the first world colonized by humans from the Outer Worlds rather than humans from Earth. Metals, food, technology, and more is traded amoung the fifty-one worlds on a regular basis.
  • Guile Hero: Luiz Moreno represents the Pacific Project for the audience, acting as Earth's Ambassador to Aurora at first, until they dismiss him because Earth illegally arrested Ernest Keilin. He's promoted to Secretary without Portfolio and goes on air with Mr Keilin to answer questions and announce that Earth's government has recently captured five smugglers from the Outer Worlds. He ends the story as Earth's President pro tem, explaining to Mr Keilin his machinations up until this point, and to announce that Mr Keilin will be elected President of the next version of Earth's government.
  • Naming Your Colony World:
    • Aurora is the first colony world, and is named for the Roman personification of the dawn. It functions as a leader among the Outer Worlds, having the most advanced ecology, military, and technology. From Aurora, humans saw the dawn of Casual Interstellar Travel.
      "[Aurora] was the first planet settled outside the Solar System, and represented the dawn of interstellar travel."
    • Faunus is named for a Roman god of farming. Named in this story for their effort at terraforming Hesperus.
    • Rhea is named for the Greek Titan who gave birth to most of the Olympians.
    • Tethys is named for the Greek Titan of freshwater, who foster-mothered for Hera.
    • Hesperus is the fiftieth colony planet, and is named for the Greek personification of the evening star, the opposite of Aurora. Colonized by people from Faunus, it is the first (and only) colony terraformed without Earthmen. From Hesperus, humanity saw the evening of Casual Interstellar Travel. No new worlds were colonized until Robots and Empire.
  • One World Order: Earth is the capital of the Terrestrian Empire, but even as this story begins, the empire has shrunk to Earth's system alone. Each of the Outer Worlds, as the colony planets call themselves, has their own planetary government, and they've broken several ties with Earth. The belligerence displayed by the Terrestrial government provokes the Outer Worlds to war against the homeworld. At the end of the story, Ernest Keilin learns about the conspiracy that provoked the war, and how they're arranging for him to be President of Earth under a brand-new constitution. They envision Earth taking the lead again in a century's time.
  • Planet of Hats: Earth's Pacific Project Invokes the idea that each colony planet will diverge from the baseline human characteristics. A combination of eugenics, alien chemical life, and a lack of baseline infusions means that each of the Outer Worlds will mutate in a way unique to each world. The Pacific Project expects them to outgrow their racism and xenophobia, and embrace the spectrum of humanity.
  • Planet Terra: There's Earth and Earthmen, but it is a Terrestrian government, and Terrestrian resources.
  • Terraform: Each of the fifty Outer Worlds were colonized by terraforming them into something hospitable by human standards. Aurora is used as an example to provide Exposition on the vagaries of taming a new world to human preference. However, much of the terraforming was based on transplanting swathes of Earth onto the planets. The steady processes of erosion and adaptation produce microscopic changes in the plants, affecting the animals, and eventually the humans. Having forbidden trade with Earth, the humans on each of the Outer Worlds will develop quirks unique to the chemistry of their planets.
  • Title Drop: The title refers to Earth's position as the homeland of humanity, the source of sapient life in the galaxy. Three times the title is used; twice the Outer Worlds are separating themselves from Earth as homeworld. The third use of "Mother Earth" is by an Earthman to say that it will lead a Galactic Empire.
  • Video Phone: Certain walls have a community-wave, which is a wall that provides such a high-definition picture that looks like you could reach out and physically touch the person you're in contact with. The people of the Outer Worlds prefer to conduct all of their business via community-wave and only meet in-person if they must.
  • The War of Earthly Aggression: The fifty colony worlds, angered by the bellicose demands of Earth to allow immigration and trade, put trade sanctions against Earth, forbidding economic contact. When Earth publicly announces that they've captured five Outer Worlds ships breaking interplanetary law by trying to smuggle Earth products out of the solar system, Aurora sees this as the final straw, and leads the rest of the fifty colonies in a (short) war against Earth, choosing to establish a permanent blockade at the edge of the solar system.