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I'm trying to create the backstory for a world which has 2 planets populated with genetically modified humans, and 'normal' humans who live on space stations/domed habitats built on moons. I also need the ‘normal’ humans to be at war with one of the planets.

So far, I have come up with

• An extinction event is threatening the entire solar system, leading to a generational ship(s) being sent out, with the mission of continuing humanity should this event come to pass.

• In the decades leading up to the discovery of the event, small unmanned laser sail probes have been sent to exoplanets of interest maybe 4 – 10 light years away (a probe takes 12 to 30 years to get there, and data takes 4-10 years to get back, so over a period of 16 – 40 years exoplanet data has been collected). The probes send back detailed data regarding the atmosphere and soil of their target planet.

• System ‘X’ is of interest because there are 2 planets in the habitable zone, both with atmospheres (and oceans) that could be potentially be terraformed with technology currently being developed, which used genetically modified bacteria/algae to create a breathable atmosphere similar to Earth. However, one planet has 2G gravity, and one is saturated with a new compound that is dangerous to humans.

• The new compound could be theoretically be used as an extremely efficient fuel source (or some other important use). Because of this, they choose to send a generational ship to this system, and populate the planets with genetically modified humans, who will mine resources for the colony from the planets.

• Generational ship takes 300-350 years to arrive using a fusion drive to reach the system. Before launch, they send out small laser sail probes with terraforming ‘payload’ of bacteria/alga to create breathable atmosphere, which arrive faster, giving around 300 years for terraforming to occur.

• Once they arrive, the ship becomes the base for the first and largest space station of the ‘normal’ human colony - these humans have a monopoly on advanced technology.

Anyway, I feel that my backstory is overcomplicated, and also has the problem of why they would be interested in a new fuel if they already have a fusion drive or similar to get to the system in the first place. But, if it's not a fuel, there would have to be another reason that they would send a ship to somewhere with no planets that are suitable for 'normal' humans.

Just wondering if anyone had any ideas to simplify it – all I really need is a self-enclosed system with the 2 planets with genetically modified humans, and ‘normal’ humans on space stations, and for one of the planets to have a mystery compound poisonous to 'normal' humans (this is required by the story).

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    $\begingroup$ I think this is better suited in the writing stack overflow. In this stackoverflow we deal with worldbuilding. As you want a backstory and the wirld us already build, it's plot related. I do suggest the following: conpared to many it's still a simple backstory. As a random example, look at "A song of ice and fire" for a much more difficult plot. In addition it is important to understand that you don't have to expose your full backstory. This allows for more creativity, less writing yourself into a corner, imagination of the reader and more focus on the story. Subtlety is better than exposition $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Jun 23 at 12:42
  • $\begingroup$ I know - I I think I was just also looking to see if my existing idea could be improved upon! But you're right, that may have been better as a separate question :) $\endgroup$
    – user96461
    Jun 23 at 21:46

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Space Station Habitats are a Stupid Idea. Use it.

Orbiting habitats are a terrible idea. See this answer.

Fortunately for your story purposes that is a good thing!

I also need the ‘normal’ humans to be at war with one of the planets. . . .

The space stations are not self-sufficient. They require a huge amount of energy to be supplied from the surface to send up supplies and fuel. The genetically modified humans on the surface don't want to labour to supply their orbital overlords. This is the ultimate cause of the war.

Of course for the war to make sense the normal humans must have a presence on the ground. Otherwise the exos would just cut supplies and starve them out. I suspect the normies control all advanced technology on the surface and the exos are the lower class.

. . . there would have to be another reason that they would send a ship to somewhere with no planets that are suitable for 'normal' humans.

This one is easy. There are no suitable planets nearby.

. . . all I really need is a self-enclosed system with the 2 planets. . .

Having two similar planets in the same system sounds unlikely. But maybe it would be cool if one planet was much hotter or colder than the other and the genetically modified people are different on each planet.

. . . . one of the planets to have a mystery compound poisonous to 'normal' humans (this is required by the story).

Something different in the air or soil, too toxic for normal humans to live there, and too prevalent to terraform out. Easier to modify the people instead.


I was just wondering if the mystery compound on the planet being a fuel made sense, given that they have a fusion drive to get to the system in the first place! :)

I agree with Willk on this one. Simply declare the fusion drive is inefficient or relies on exotic materials. It is good for thousand year space missions but bad for setting up infrastructure quickly. The fuel on the new planet is much easier to use. I suggest this stuff:

enter image description here

Coal. Just dig it out of the ground and burn it. No fancy schmancy reactors necessary.

Plus it is thematic. The exos on the surface use this primitive material to power their homes while the orbital overlords use spacebound fusion reactors and massive towers that beam energy from the surface into space.

In the real world coal is going out of style due to greenhouse effects. To bring it back into style declare greenhouse effects are good. The new planet is too cold. Burning coal is good for the terraforming initiative. Burn as much coal as you can. It is your civic duty!

enter image description here

Another less fun option is to tie together the fusion and the new resource by saying the new resource is exactly what is needed to get the fusion going. This is less thematic however.

Finally I see no reason for the new resource to be the same thing that makes the surface poisonous to baseline humans. It is expected for a new planet to be inhospitable to baselines. It does not need to be tied into the other elements of the plot. Saying the danger is conveniently due to the new fuel source is less believable than saying nothing.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes, that's basically what I came up with - one planet has 2G gravity and metal ores, and one is saturated with a new compound that is dangerous to humans, so the prospective humans are modified to live on each planet - and the 'normal' humans have a monopoly on advanced technology, basically just using the planets as mining colonies, hence the war. I was just wondering if the mystery compound on the planet being a fuel made sense, given that they have a fusion drive to get to the system in the first place! :) $\endgroup$
    – user96461
    Jun 23 at 21:41
  • $\begingroup$ @user96461 See edits. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Jun 24 at 13:06
  • $\begingroup$ You’re right that the poisonous compound on the planet does not have to be the same as the fuel – don’t know why that didn’t occur to me. Not sure about it being coal though, as it is supposed to be a previously uninhabited planet, and isn’t coal formed from compacted vegetation? But maybe the planet could be rich in the fuel which their fusion drive uses, and they have used up all their fuel to get to the system – I’ll have to look into it! Thanks for the answer :) $\endgroup$
    – user96461
    Jun 24 at 14:05
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Your setup with the 2 planets of exos (nice word; thanks Daron) and the orbiting overlords is good.

Here is the question:

why they would be interested in a new fuel if they already have a fusion drive or similar to get to the system in the first place.

Some ideas.

  1. Fusion drive is fussy. Maybe it uses only muonium which is hard to come by. Or a rare isotope of argon. In any case the drive is not Mr Fusion running on banana peels. It requires specific kinds of matter to turn into energy.

  2. Fuel for something better. There are organisms on this planet which make a biomolecule that can be used to make portals. Portals can be used to jump through space at speeds just short of light speed. The portal tech already exists in experimental forms but the synthetic materials used to make portals are unstable and the portals are untrustworthy. The molecules from the planet can be used to make reliable portals.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you - I really like these ideas! (Also, well done for discerning the question in my wall of text :) ) I'm off to research muonium then... $\endgroup$
    – user96461
    Jun 24 at 4:26
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From tchnology point You do not have reason to send ship to system with planets. Best system is with planetoids. You have space factory and can make dyson swarm for Your population. Only limit is rock base in system and density of oort cloud. Planets are only usefull as a rock source.

Only reason to colonise planet is faith and can explain anything as stupid as You wish.

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  • $\begingroup$ The reason I was going for planets was to that I need 2 environments that are different enough from Earth's to merit creating genetically modified humans to populate them. Maybe the 'normal' humans could live in a dyson swarm though - I'll look into it :) $\endgroup$
    – user96461
    Jun 23 at 21:44
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If the tech exists it will be used. Nuclear weapons are being actively researched and tested at great expense and danger just because they can. If modifying humans is possible it will be done. There are probably labs right now trying to work out that exact thing.

You don't really need much more reason than the tech existing. There wasn't an overriding need for humans to go to the moon or Venus. With the non modified humans, they're just the security and scientific group monitoring the experiments. You don't modify lab rats and then let them do whatever they want. You want them operating within the control and parameters of the scientists.

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  • $\begingroup$ The 'normal' humans being the overseers is an interesting idea - but I'd prefer it not to be in our solar system, and sending a generational ship to exoplanets would be very expensive for an experiment :) $\endgroup$
    – user96461
    Jun 24 at 4:06
  • $\begingroup$ Expense isn't an obstacle, and overseers was meant as thats what they started as, but after a few generations no one is going to be sticking to scientific agendas made by long dead people trillions of miles away. It's just the reason one group isn't modified. $\endgroup$
    – Kilisi
    Jun 24 at 7:21
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The best I can think of is your home planet is crowded, and restricted.

Resources are at their limit; your personal space is very limited, regulations abound, the rules of procreation are oppressive and abortions mandatory for a third pregnancy; all resources are thin, including food, mobility, space and social options. There are no parks or open spaces. Energy consumption is severely limited too, global warming is a threat.

You want something better for your children, and starting over as colonists on another planet? Anything is better than living like sardines in a can.

If I can be genetically modified, I'm in it for myself. If I cannot, but my future children can have a better future than my pointless existence in what amounts to a prison, then I'm in it for them. Let my progeny have the life I could not, at least I saved them from my misery.

You don't need a war or planetary threat. You just need misery and a strong desire to find something better. Your colonists might even be part of a religious movement: That is why many of the early American colonists left Europe; they couldn't stand their religious persecution in Europe.

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  • $\begingroup$ The war is actually required for part of the storyline! But you're right - it wouldn't necessarily have to be an extinction event that makes them leave to start over - I'm still working on that part :) $\endgroup$
    – user96461
    Jun 24 at 4:11
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    $\begingroup$ @user96461 The war may be over resources. Throughout history, people have tried to take what colonists developed. At first they leave the colonists alone because who cares about those stupid guys working 24/7 to survive? But once the colonists start looking more comfortable than themselves -- How dare they! Let's kill 'em all and take all their shit for ourselves! It is actually a common pattern in history, repeated again and again, even in America. Let's take the good Indian land and give them this crappy land. Wait, they found GOLD on it? How dare they! Let's kill them and take that gold! $\endgroup$
    – Amadeus
    Jun 24 at 15:49
  • $\begingroup$ That’s actually a really good idea - I’ve been looking for a threat to unite the colony and end the war (for now), and I like the idea that ending up being the original Earth. Maybe the reason that that they originally left Earth has become obfuscated by time, but there are agents who are still in (very slow) contact with Earth... I’ll have to think about it some more :) $\endgroup$
    – user96461
    Jun 25 at 8:41
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Nothing Wrong with using Modified Humans

If you find it is too much details to explain all at once, just explain it in pieces as relevant details to your story come up. That said, there is nothing wrong with your backstory as a whole, many good sci-fi settings involve modifying humans to meet thier new environment instead of trying to modify the environment to meet our needs. In fact, I would say it is the far more reasonable thing to do.

Terraforming a whole planet is a crazy expensive undertaking. Consider global warming. It has taken billions of humans over 100 years of burning fossil fuels just to shift the Earth's temperature a few degrees. So how are a few hundred colonists supposed to get the job done? Using genetic modification instead, you can colonize a planet right away by only needing to change a few tiny humans as opposed to a whole planet.

That said, your setting does seem to have a bit of a hole in your logic. If this civilization has no issues modifying its own genetics to meet its biome, then why are the space humans not modified to live better in space?

Modify the Spacers Too

Space is no more an ideal place for natural humans than a toxic or heavy world. For starters, I would modify the spacers' metabolic system to turn them into cold blooded herbivores. You can cut out 70-90% of the caloric needs by taking away thier self regulation of body temperature which you don't need in a sealed, environmentally controlled space habitat, and while humans CAN live off of plants alone, it is not great for our health. By reducing out reliance on certain nutrients, it would be easier to feed humans without needing to rely on animal husbandry which is a far less efferent way feeding a person.

For natural humans, about 80% of your habitation space would have to just be farmlands. Because of this, you can't just grow food on the outside of your station, you need to do most of your farming inside using artificial light. Feeding a human sized mammal means you need to produce about 240kg of food and consume about 9,000kwh of electricity per year. Between the space and electrical needs, this makes feeding normal humans expensive. But with cold blooded humans, you would need 5 times less farmlands, which means most of your farming could be done by the much cheaper green house method. It also means you could fit 3 times as many colonists into the same sized habitat without any noticeable change in quality of life.

Furthermore, there is no natural day/night cycle in space, so you could also remove the circadian rhythm requirements from the human body so they can stay awake and work around the clock making them more productive despite thier lower metabolisms. Since the role of your space humans is to be keepers of technology, you could also breed them for a more sedentary life style. Make thier bodies better at sitting in front of a computer for hours at a time without needing regular exorcise. Increase thier cognitive abilities, reduce thier aggression, etc. All in all, the spacers should be just as alien as the other modified humans.

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  • $\begingroup$ That's an interesting idea - I think I was just assuming that the genetically modifying technology was limited to 'simpler' changes, but also that humans would probably be egotistical enough to want to preserve the 'original' humanity. But, the 'normal' humans are the ones that have to live on the generational ship to get there, so maybe they do modify them slightly to make it easier - I'll look into it :) $\endgroup$
    – user96461
    Jun 23 at 21:52

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