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Literature / Three Worlds Collide

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"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.


  • 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.
  • 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.
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  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Humans Are Average: Surprisingly, given how strange the aliens are, the Superhappies stand in the same relationship to humans that humans stand to the Babyeaters.
  • Info Dump: 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.
  • And, in one ending, "In The Future All Life Will Be One Race."
  • Irony: Upon encountering the aliens, Akon obsessively hopes that they are aware of the Prisoner's Dilemma, as fighting them or being destroyed himself are the last thing he wants. At the end, Akon has an opportunity to pick the "good" solution, destroying the system they are in, and allowing all races to continue unchanged. Instead, the crew (with Akon indisposed to weigh in), end up picking the "evil" solution - keep humanity safe, but throw Baby-Eaters under the bus.
  • 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". Having set the supernova on its course, the cast members are pretty much just standing around and talking for their last few minutes of life. The Master of Fandom asks the Kiritsugu if he feels like he can die without regrets. The supernova hits in the middle of his answer: "Don't be ridicu—"
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 given name of a major character from Fate/Zero who had a background role in Fate/stay night.
  • 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"?: Ironically reversed in regards to humanity and the Superhappies - it's the humans who have to ask "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. At this point, they are all inescapably going to die in nine minutes and neither they nor anyone else has to live with the consequences of their actions in the meantime. The Lord of Fandom muses that, having no particular impulses, he must not "really" be much of anyone at all. The Lady Sensory informs the Lord Pilot that she had often fantasized about kicking him in the testicles, but now that the perfect consequence-free opportunity has come up, she doesn't actually want to do it after all. The Lord Pilot grabs her breast and gloats that this means his self-estimate was more accurate than hers — that gets her to kick him for real.


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