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The run down here is that there's this continent, and there is a lot of unclaimed land where countries haven't formed yet and a lot of tribes but there are some actual countries like kingdoms, (where kingdoms are at war).

Yes there's magic. (That's the main reason for the kingdom's war).

But I was planning to add this cyberpunk country, like it doesn't belong with these pre-industrial countries. Should I remove it? (I can always add it elsewhere).

Also if the answer is yes, would it make more sense if the said advanced nation was an island?

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site Richmond Tag, when you have a few minutes, please take the tour and read up in our help center about how we work: How to Ask Not bad post. Just one thing, we traditionaly don't award "accepted answer" until 24 hours after the question is asked as it would discourage other (possibly better) answers. It's fine to withdraw it once awarded though, and come back and award it again later. +1 $\endgroup$ – Don Qualm May 1 at 12:31
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    $\begingroup$ "Should I remove it?" is a "please give me an opinion" question we don't really do those here, I can see some real potential in this question though, I seriously recommend taking it to the Sandbox for some working over. $\endgroup$ – Ash May 1 at 12:33
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Earth. A planet of technological and cultural extremes $\endgroup$ – Old_Fossil May 1 at 22:42
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    $\begingroup$ All I can say is: Wakanda Forever! $\endgroup$ – Josh Part May 2 at 23:10
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    $\begingroup$ Once you have magic, anything is allowable. That's the downside of any story invoking supernatural capabilities. $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft May 3 at 13:25

13 Answers 13

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While the Roman Empire had the technological knowledge to build aqueducts, roads and buildings like the Pantheon, in the same continent there were populations which were not far herding sheep in countryside. And this with no magic.

Also while the Egyptian were building the Pyramids the rest of the African population were at most tribal nations, hunting or pasturing.

So, yes, it is possible for one nation to be technologically more advanced than the others living on the same continent. Especially if trade routes (and the exchange of knowledge moving along them) are somehow not really efficient.

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    $\begingroup$ This is actually a bit misleading since they conquered all the other advanced civilizations on their continent while ignoring the less advanced ones. Also, Ancient civilizations are a bit irrelevant as an example of a steampunk world since tech moves much more quickly now than it used to. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki May 1 at 14:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki, in present day world on the same continent live hunter gatherers and skyscraper people.. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch May 1 at 15:14
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    $\begingroup$ Eighteenth century Africa would be similar. There would be technologically advanced peoples in some places (chiefly near the coast) but pre-industrial peoples elsewhere. There was certainly a period where the post-industrial had not conquered the pre-industrial, and another period where 'conquest' hadn't changed the lives of the pre-industrial peoples much. $\endgroup$ – DJClayworth May 1 at 15:46
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    $\begingroup$ Eighteen century Africa is probably a good example what will happen. European guns and other products were highly desirable, and fueled the entire slave trade, and changed the face of the continent. A cyberpunk country will definitely affect each and every other country in the world massively. $\endgroup$ – Whitecold May 2 at 6:58
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    $\begingroup$ "Also while the Egyptian were building the Pyramids the rest of the African population were at most tribal nations, hunting or pasturing." - Not so. There were well-developed cultures in the Ethiopia region at the time, and probably some more further south, though they left less of an archeological record. $\endgroup$ – Paul Sinclair May 2 at 16:27
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Remove it.

In fact, you should probably keep it away from the planet, unless there is a special reason to have it, and unless you are prepared to have technological differences hijack any plot.

Cyberpunk is usually about a harsh, uncaring society. So why should a street gang member not sell the contents of his flat, buy an assault rifle and a crate full of ammo, and hire out as a mercenary to one of the kingdoms? He'd get plenty of booze, plenty of sex, and what happens 30 years later when arthritis sets in is far in the future.

Similarly, people from the kingdoms would come to the cyberpunk society and look for jobs. Anything they can do without tech training -- unskilled labor at a contstruction site, gardening and cleanup, perhaps even a bouncer at a seedy bar. Saving just a little bit of their daily wage would let them return with a pack full of zippos, prescription-free painkillers, steel needles, etc. The corporations of a cyberpunk society would not really check ID cards, they look only at the bottom line.

Of course these individuals would be dwarfed by corporate activities. Ask the king to grow GM crops on his manors, spreading pesticide without safety concern and fear of class action lawsuits. The king is paid to handle that.

Preventing this "technology spill" will probably fail unless the cyberpunk society is more orderly than cyberpunk usually implies.

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    $\begingroup$ More orderly or simply travel is a LOT more dangerous and harder than we have typically seen throughout history (and travel already used to be pretty bad) $\endgroup$ – David Mulder May 1 at 14:14
  • $\begingroup$ If the cyber punk society has enough power, then they can make sure the kingdoms never have the resources they need to make their own cyberpunk tech. Making tech is a big investment, even if you know how it works. So, if they manage to scratch together the 4 billion dollar price tag to build their own cybernetics factory, it does not matter. On the day it opens, mercenaries from the main nation show up and destroy it to ensure that the main nation's economy goes unchallenged. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki May 3 at 17:44
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I think you may be better served by deciding what you want from your world.

Does your narrative require a single technologically advanced nation in the midst of less developed ones?
Or did you just add it because it was a cool idea?

L.Dutch has rather neatly given an example around the Roman Empire and its existence in parallel with much much less sophisticated societies, so broadly the answer to your question would seem to be yes, you can have societies of vastly different sophistication alongside one another.

The question is how you want your nations to interact if at all.

If you don't want them to meet, physically separating the advanced nation will do the job for a while.
If you want conquerors, the roman empire covered europe and shaped modern civilisation as we know it with its sophisticated approaches to culture, industry and warfare.

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This sounds like a parody of a the United States.

If you understand how it happened in real life, you can adapt events to fit your needs:

The most important variable here is going to be cultural separation. At some point in their past, the whole continent needs to be divided up by a small number of adversarial and different cultures. In the case of North America, Britain was the last of Europe's major powers to lay a claim to the new world; so, New England is not exactly prime real estate for agriculture. Regardless, England's Protestant reformations meant they had the largest population of people wanting to colonize. So, they came to a place in large numbers with poorer living conditions. This meant that while French and Spanish colonials were confronted with way more farmland than they could ever use, the New England states invested their limited resources into industrializing leading to an urbanization boom.

But the English also claimed some territories farther South. The southern territories became massive providers of raw materials for the north to process. This meant that even though New England was specialized toward industry, it did not need the French or Spanish territories for anything giving the English colonies a full production cycle that mostly excluded the rest of America.

By the time the mid-late 1800s rolled around, the end of slavery put way more emphasis on industrialization to help balance the sudden shift in the American economy. With this came the growth of public education to meet the needs of an industrializing economy. Your cyberpunk civilization needs a similar event. Something that forces it to abandon "old way thinking" and pursue technology with a unified national determination.

By the early-mid 1900s the full cycle economy and growing reliance on industry made the US one of the most rapidly developing nations in the world driven by a culture of harsh capitalism, achievement, and wealth. Mean-time: the rest of America had two other general groups:

  • The Spanish colonies (Central America) continued with their agriculturally focused societies and conservative values. While they technically had the population and resources to compete with the US, They chose to remain as 21 independent states instead of federalizing, this made building a full cycle economy more difficult for any one of them. They lived comfortably enough and did not care to change the status quo. They also were pretty resistant to adopting American technology due to so many cultural differences including language, religion, economics, and family values.

  • The major French colonies were mostly absorbed by the USA in the French and Indian War and the Louisiana Purchase. Leaving only modern day Canada. While Canada has adopted more technologically from US advancement than Central America, they have such a smaller population than the other major groups that they don't do a lot of development on their own.

For purposes of your question, focus on recreating the Spanish timeline for your less advanced nations, but adding a Canada or two to represent the in-betweens may make your story more believable.

By the 1990s, the USA was the most economically and technologically advanced nation in the world. Almost all of the world's telecommunication, computer technology, and entertainment came from the USA while most of central america was still tilling soil just as their ancestors had done.

Even today, large portions of Central America remain pre-industrial. So the only question you need to answer for yourself is what's that last step needed to take a country like the USA to cyber-punk?

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    $\begingroup$ In addition to the points you raise, it's worth considering that nominally the Native Americans were regarded as independent nations by the United States. So certainly the USA was at a different technological level than those nations, despite sharing North America with them. $\endgroup$ – tbrookside May 1 at 18:46
  • $\begingroup$ +1. Note that the U.S. greatly increased its investment in elementary education circa 1830, about the time of the Second Great Awakening. This was a religious revival, and coincided with both the separation of church and state at the local level, and with the extension of the (voting) franchise to almost all white men. During the 1860s, the U.S. greatly increased its investment in college education and research; this is when M.I.T. and the other land grant institutions were founded. $\endgroup$ – Jasper May 2 at 3:45
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    $\begingroup$ The answer is ok, but it does give the US more credit than is due. A lot of the advancement came from Europe. Especially in the early-mid 1900s, which you have a paragraph specifically about - in reality, a lot of technological advancement at that time came from our war allies and from German scientists who defected or were captured. Radar and rockets, two of the huge technology advancements, we got from Europe. I did not down-vote since the question is about "on the same continent", which Europe is not, but it should be acknowledged that the US cannot take all the credit. $\endgroup$ – Loduwijk May 3 at 15:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Aaron I agree, countries that culturally pursue knowledge tend to learn more from other places. As I wrote this answer, I found that I could have gone much deeper into things like specific foreign policies, trade routes, individual wars, immigration patterns, and exact technological advancements, but I tried to stay focused on the broad cultural factors to keep the scope of the answer from turning into an American History textbook. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki May 3 at 17:30
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Separate the tech city with physical and cultural barriers.

This is the "lost city archetype". Burroughs did it up with Opar, a lost Atlantean colony isolated from the outside world. There are older precedents (example, the giant lands in Jack and the Beanstalk) but with magic goodies instead of tech marvels.

Opar

http://pobrownbag.blogspot.com/2015/12/pobb-december-9-2015.html

The thing with the Romans is that they had no hesitation about sharing tech, selling tech, capturing foreigners and bringing them home, etc. Now we are all Romans. To keep your rich city separate you need physical barriers to keep explorers / job seekers out and cultural barriers to prevent the inhabitants from sharing their secrets.

  1. Opar It is physically remote in central Africa, possibly further hidden down in an old crater. The people are paranoid, inbred and messed up.

  2. Wakanda. Hidden with deflector shields, people are paranoid but somehow not inbred.

  3. Atlantis. Hidden way underwater, nothing floats, people are paranoid, some look inbred.

  4. Floating city (example Tiphares in Alita, Battle Angel). Inaccessable in the air, people are paranoid or possibly all long dead.

  5. Alien city. Inhabitants are sentient gorillas, aliens, faeries, giants etc. City is disguised by magic or tech. Citizens are paranoid or dismissive/contemptuous or might have forgotten about humans over time.

  6. One I might have made up: the time traveler city. These people are refugees from this worlds future. They brought back tech from their time. They greatly limit
    interactions with the outside for fear of altering their own timeline. Which maybe boils down to being paranoid, and eventually inbred, and then all dead.

  7. One more: newly arrived colonists / refugees. Example: District 9. This city is separate mostly because it is really new. The inhabitants will mix with the natives, interbreed (or try), sell or trade their tech etc. The tech is not more widespread because they are very recent arrivals. This is how it worked with the European colonists in the New World. The result is a society very much in flux.

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  • $\begingroup$ For #2, the population of Wakanda is fairly large. Why would they be inbred? $\endgroup$ – Michael Richardson May 1 at 14:34
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelRichardson - if you do a search for "population of Wakanda" you will find it is between 1000 and 6,000,000. Census taking is not their strong suit in Wakanda. The bigger population would of course be helpful with avoiding inbreeding. Mostly I said that about inbreeding to contrast with Opar which is also a hidden African city. $\endgroup$ – Willk May 1 at 14:51
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    $\begingroup$ I've seen citations recently that as few as 80 well selected people and a little bit of unnatural selection is enough to prevent bottleneck problems; so, even 1000 randomly partnering up should be mostly fine as long as the whole community of 1000 people is able to intermix, and there is not a much smaller bottleneck upstream. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki May 1 at 17:45
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    $\begingroup$ Re Wakanda; they also have to deal with the fact that vibranium is mutagenic $\endgroup$ – Willk May 1 at 23:25
  • $\begingroup$ Leo Frankowski wrote Conrad's Time Machine to explain the founding of a time traveller city. The city put itself in North America about 60,000 years ago. The city provided key assistance to Frankowski's Cross-Time Engineer. The city was founded in the 1970s. It started out rather in-bred. Most residents were very cautious and fatalistic, but others were military men. $\endgroup$ – Jasper Jun 13 at 5:49
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Yes there's magic. (That's the main reason for kingdom's war). But I was planning to add this cyberpunk country, like it doesn't belong with these pre-industrial countries. Should I remove it? (I can always add it elsewhere).

You have rediscovered the dwarves of Warhammer. Dwarves are a technologically-advanced nation in the midst of a bunch of low-tech people who have magic. Seriously though, the dwarves have helicopters and everybody else is still using chariots pulled by horses. Nonetheless, the dwarven tech isn't enough for them to dominate everybody else because #1 magic and #2 population. Dwarves live in a rather inhospitable environment (underground,) so they don't have the same population growth to throw bodies around like everybody else does.

So yes, definitely possible as long as you provide some reason as to why the technological advantage this country possesses is insufficient for them to dominate everybody.

Also if the answer is yes, would it make more sense if the said advanced nation was an island?

Not necessarily an island, but some sort of separation or geographical barrier would be useful.

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Cyberpunk requires a very large supply chain - you need loads of mining, manufacturing, farming, ranching. You need lots and lots of infrastructure to be present - even the simple things take a lot of moving parts. Let's see - you want the internet to be present (or it's not really very "cyber").

That means that you need at a minimum, the ability to manufacture computers, routers, string wire across the country, generate electricity, and have enough excess food and water being generated that there's reason for people to work with those things, rather than having to be subsistence farmers.

Let's take one small part of that - stringing wire across the country requires the ability to make high quality copper wire, to manufacture high quality steel (for the towers to hold the wire) and interchangeable parts (nuts, bolts, etc), to manufacture plastic to insulate the wire, and to transport all of those raw materials.

Let's take a small part of that - high quality steel. So to make high quality steel, first you'll need a good source of iron and chromium (to make it stainless, so it doesn't rust through), and you'll need to have developed blast furnaces, which means you'll need a good source of coal for heat (you can use electricity instead, but that just means you need a good way of making lots and lots of electricity, and you can't make electricity without a good power plant, and you can't make a good power plant without steel - so coal has to come first).

So you've got an isolated country that manages to have enough iron, aluminum, chromium, copper, coal, gold, silver, rare earth minerals, etc. to sustain a cyberpunk economy, but remains in isolation?

In short - no. You can be more advanced than your surrounding neighbors to a degree, but you can't have a cyberpunk nation be that much more advanced because by necessity they will need to extend their economy worldwide. If the country is physically large enough to manage to produce all of the possible materials to sustain itself, then it will have to be British-Empire-like in size and scale, and possibly larger.

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    $\begingroup$ The Romans, cited elsewhere, were still within the same general level of bronze-age technology as those who surrounded them. $\endgroup$ – Doug R. May 3 at 13:15
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You could make it a colony from a technological nation on a very distant continent. There was a large gap in technological development between Europe and Australia when the Europeans arrived. If there were fewer usable stopping points en route, a more dangerous ocean or a less developed sea-faring technology then discovery may have taken considerably longer.

It might even be that the technological civilisation didn't even know about the other continent until they developed satellites. I'd probably have the magic users still biologically related to the advanced civilisation, perhaps 'self-exiled' themselves to the distant land in pre-historic times after they discovered it by magical means.

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Yes. And No.

  • Yes: We see many examples of a more technologically-developed nation or region dominating or coexisting with a less-developed nation or region.

    • The Romans were cited in another answer. However, it should be noted that the Romans were still within the same general level of Bronze-age technology as the peoples they dominated. I.e., they had swords, spears, etc., but those were within the overall capabilities of the surrounding peoples. The main advantages held by the Romans were their relative unity compared to the peoples around them (they could take them on one at a time with overwhelming force), their knowledge of engineering (i.e., the aqueducts, city-building), and the Legions, which were trained as an extremely effective fighting force.

    • Present-day: In the last two hundred years, there are many examples of nations with superior technologies dominating, or existing among, nations with lower technological levels for a time. For example, many European colonies in Africa and the Americas were examples of industrial economies (or their outposts, using, but not producing, technological products, such as guns) existing in close proximity to hunter-gatherers.

  • No: Where there is too great a spread between the technology levels of the different sides, technology creep occurs. Look at the colonial experience in Africa, India, and North America. In all cases, technology (i.e., firearms) spread from the colonials to the colonized and leveled the playing field, to an extent.

    • In India, The First War for Independence (a.k.a., the Indian, or Sepoy Mutiny) was undertaken primarily by native troops armed by the British.

    • In the United States, as with Rome, the relative unity of the U.S. compared to the indigenous nations, allowed them to conquer one tribe at a time. Many of these tribes were armed with the same weapons as the U.S. Calvary that they were fighting, weapons that they had both legitimately purchased and which they had captured. Had there been a unified alliance among the indigenous nations in the Americas, there might have been a very different outcome.

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Historical examples:

  • Hudson Bay company in North America,
  • The Dutch East India company in India,
  • the settlement of America,
  • the Spanish presence in central and south America.
  • the Phoenician trading empire.
  • the Ottoman empire had different tech levels within the same political structure.

In some ways it exists even now in America -- not as nations, but as regions.

  • Much of the rural parts of the Navaho indian reservation does not have electricity, or running water.

  • Backwoods Appalachia and Ozarks can be like stepping back in time over a century.

In a small way this is getting worse:

  • In the city for 30 dollars per month you can get 100 Mbit to gigabit internet connections. I pay 90 dollars per month for a 6 Mbit connection -- and had to erect a 70 foot tower. If you plot location vs latency the Earth is getting a very weird space metric.
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The cyberpunk civilization is alien. They don't really consider the natives to be worthy of notice. They don't trade with them, because why would you trade with alien wildlife? They have nothing of real value. The native magic makes them interesting to study sometimes. Some aliens collect magical artifacts like humans collect hunting trophies.

Others use native artifacts because they think it's hip. These hipsters practice cultural appropriation writ large. They attack and destroy local communities because they don't think they're people. They take their artifacts. Their cultural imitations are a crude mockery that rubs salt into the wounds they cause.

Natives of course can fight back with their magics, but their resistance is seen as just dangerous animals. This perspective does let natives roam somewhat freely in the alien cities. The nicer communities will of course employ the equivalent of dog catchers or trappers to keep natives off their streets, but the slums are infested with natives living off the refuse of this society. This lifestyle is obviously dangerous, but can be lucrative for those who export alien tech.

Alien tech doesn't make it far from their colonies. The natives don't understand it and can't replicate it. It's seen as unreliable compared to magic, which is well understood. Knowing that some things are possible has led to advancements in technology - crude aircraft powered by magic, for example - but they're not widespread due to magical limitations.

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Such a situation currently exists in our world: see Wikipedia: Uncontacted Peoples. There are pre-industrial tribes in Brazil. Papua New Guinea has many uncontacted tribes as well. In both places, I think there are tribes that know about the modern civilization they are near, but choose to continue their way of life. Also, in both places travel is difficult due to dense rainforest/jungle, and in the case of New Guinea, steep mountains.

Even in the US there are the Amish, who choose forego the modern life, although they do interact with the rest of us more than the tribes.

I think this condition occurs with some combination of difficult communication and lack of desire to change. If the lack of desire is simply inertia or the human tendency to resist large change, then difficulty in communication will keep them happy in their traditional ways. It's not worth the effort for the moderns to take what they have, and it's not worth their effort to get what the moderns have. In other cases, the group has specifically rejected modernity (e.g. Amish). This group can exist as long as their is difficulty in communication, they do not have anything valuable, or they are embedded in a modern state which protects them as a side effect of protecting itself.

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Technology requires lots of different materials and investment to work. This makes it very unlikely to have an isolated technological society in the middle of "primitive wasteland". It's not obvious at first glance, but even massive countries like the US or Russia are not self-sufficient. Destroy world trade, and they lose access to lots of materials and capital. This probably happened a few times already (the fall of the Bronze Age civilisations is likely this combined with climate change). You don't even really need advanced civilisations for that - even rather ancient cultures relied on trade of things like salt, leather, flint...

Of course, this doesn't mean it's impossible. It's just that the smaller the country is, and the more isolated, the slower the progress is going to be. And during all this progress, you need some very good reason why the other countries don't progress at the same time. It also means that it's rather unlikely that such a country is the remnant of a previous, more advanced age (another common sci-fi/fantasy trope) - at least at our technology level, more tech means more resources and more capital needed to sustain that technology. A small, isolated enclave of technology would quickly lose most of their industry and technology.

In the end, you don't even really have to think too much about the technical reasons, if you have trouble grappling with the massive scope of technological societies. The social reasons are quite enough to make this tricky. How do they remain so isolated that their neighbours remain primitive relative to them? What happens to people who try to leave (or enter)? How do you keep such total isolationism that prevents noticeable tech transfer (and foreign investment)?

If you want to keep this at least somewhat realistic, while still keeping the "high-tech among primitives" approach, I'd suggest:

  • Make it an island. Sea borders are much more conductive to isolation (and defense) than land borders. They also offer unparalleled food security.
  • Make them advanced in exploiting sea-based resources, or have access to other continents (that the other countries don't even know about). A big part of imperialism was gaining access to foreign capital and raw resources without having it be a two way street.
  • The inhabitants pretty much have to be violent xenophobes, or at least extremely ignorant of the other countries.

The main problem with this is that it's hard to see how useful this would be for your narrative. Unless you want to build your story around this country (and something like e.g. the people there starting to get an interest in the "mainland"), these extreme isolationists are unlikely to have much impact on your story. At best, you can work with something like "this guy comes from that nation, but he's a very rare exception and will never go home again". An example would be something like Ultima's Lord British, who comes "from space", and becomes the king of a medieval-ish planet. Obviously, an entire planet makes for a great "island", especially with regards to medieval-level technology. Indeed, having the country be a colony of some advanced space-occupying civilisation solves most of the unrealistic aspects of this trope, especially if they want to minimise contaminating the local culture - some chance encounters are enough to sprinkle some mythology here and there in the local culture, while having minimal impact on the planet's development.

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