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For some time, I have been playing around with the idea of a medieval-like world, but with the twist: Some sci-fi tools exist and are fully operational. But I cannot come up with good and plausible way how this would be possible.

To make it into points:

  • The whole society is pure medieval, before firearms were developed
  • But, some people have access to, say, blasters and light sabers (not necessarily both, not necessarily any of it, but basically something completely off the level of that technology level)
  • The in-universe explanation would be either "magic" or "gift from Gods", but generally, the people got them, because they found it and guessed the usage by trial and error.

Now I need a plausible, non-magic explanation to make the above possible. And, honestly, I am willing to abandon the whole idea if there is not an explanation at all.

BTW, while typing the question, I might guess your questions, so I have a few more things:

  • The high tech weapons (or tools) should be mediocre hard to find. If you need it for your explanation, you may bind them to specific place.
  • There may be more than tools. But if you are guessing books or manuals, they can exist and be found, but must be not understandable to current generation (imagine finding nowadays something which comes with a book written in Egypt hieroglyphs)
  • Symbolic pictures, or comic books (low level try to communicate something 50 000 years in the future) may be found, but will come either hugely misinterpreted or not understood at all
  • And yes, one idea I have is, that the set up is actually far away in the future and something happened. But I am trying to imagine what exactly happened and how in the world did it leave so many tech behinf
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  • $\begingroup$ This is an example of this proposed close reason? meta.worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/a/476/18 $\endgroup$ – Liath Nov 6 '14 at 15:29
  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean by "mediocre hard to find"? $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Nov 6 '14 at 15:55
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry @HDE226868, no it sounds like an ideas generation question $\endgroup$ – Liath Nov 7 '14 at 6:25
  • $\begingroup$ @Liath Oh, I was asking Pavel, not you. Sorry about that. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Nov 7 '14 at 12:42
  • $\begingroup$ To answer @Liath I marked most popular answer as accepted to draw less attention to this question, because my inner editor agrees that this question is not on-topic. $\endgroup$ – Pavel Janicek Nov 7 '14 at 12:49
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Well there could have been some kind of space battle over the planet at some time in the past. Maybe several different ships crashed into it. The Crash might have been as simple as a controlled fall and a hard landing. Few to no survivors. So the weapons are 'alien' in manufacture.

else

If you want the survivors to populate the planet then you need a way to get a lot of them down there (maybe escape pods from other ships?) and have a reason to leave the crashed ships alone for a few a thousand years or so, maybe radioactivity from the damaged ship(s).

Thought I'd add more to the survivors section. If they can't get off the planet, and they can't use the tech in the ships, they will pretty much have to go native and would likely be at a medieval level of tech in a few centuries, though with some strangely high levels of knowledge in odd left over areas.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like it a lot, but what holds me back from searching for coal and making steel, while I still know how to build steam engine? $\endgroup$ – Pavel Janicek Nov 6 '14 at 14:43
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    $\begingroup$ Depends on who survived and what kind if any libraries exist (and how long can they access them since they should be all electronic!). Go to a big city, how many people know where their food actually comes from? The average person might know the concepts but most would still need a lot of trial and error to get things right. Could you identify Iron ore? $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Nov 6 '14 at 14:47
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This can be handled in many ways, so it all depends on how fantastical you want to go.

While you could go with the idea that civilization used to be sci-fi but some cataclysm set people back to a primitive state (society would need to be rendered down to pre-literate levels for a very long time for all knowledge to be lost), this gives you the problem of your sci-fi artifacts still being functional and powered after thousands of years of just sitting around (even in the best of cases several thousand years will not do the basic materials any good, much less the electronics, unless you are really going beyond the laws of physics kind of sci-fi where such advanced technological devices will never degrade).

The more plausible alternative source to advanced ancient civilizations is an outside supplier - artifacts are intact and functional because they are relatively new rather than 50k years old. This could be aliens, but that seems like a lazy hand-wave catch-all excuse for random inexplicable weirdness (though popular to some).

There could be a hidden advanced civilization. Think about the people alive during the cataclysm - perhaps some of them took refuge in underground vaults but adapted and don't want to leave. They might occasionally venture forth unto the surface to check things out (a survey team or class field-trip), though trying not to interact with the primitive surface dwellers. Occasionally they discard broken or worn out tools (meh, setting 3 stopped working, time to get a new one even though other settings still work), or some are just accidentally lost and their junk discards become magic relics.

Perhaps off-world colonies were established before the fall but they have prohibited all contact, but there may be outlaws/smugglers bringing in some illicit cargo (swap a plasma rifle for locally grown narcotics). Or without any interaction at all, you can still have illicit safari hunters from the colonies not being careful about leaving no trace - they came down to hunt (an adventure illegal in the interstellar community), but just tossed a half-discharged power-pack, accidentally dropped a scanner in their excitement of spotting their next kill, or just got scared of the big creature and dropped what they were holding and ran.

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This probably isn't a valid point on the matter, but in the video game "Starbound" there is a race of intelligent robots that all function as if they are living in a medieval society. Their weaponry is modern, and so are their tools and other equipment, but in terms of aesthetic wear and what their buildings look like, they are medieval. The backstory of these characters, if I can remember, is that they were designed as a form of entertainment for humans, in that the humans would go to historical fairs and see these intelligent robots acting out the roles that humans of the time would've been in.

After a time of these robots existing and being programmed not to think that they were acting but to be in belief that they are actually living in the medieval times. When the humans that built these robots died out, along with most modern human technology, the robots were left alive to act out the roles they were programmed to posses, and eventually, discovered what modern human technology they could use.

Just a thought.

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Have you heard of Mortal Engines the book? Its the first in a series about cities on wheels. Sounds unrelated but the story is set 4000 years in the future. In that time they find technology from our time and talk about it as if it were ancient magic. They don't understand things like CD players or mobile phones. Some people wear these items as talismans, others take them apart to try and understand them. Some of the things they find are super weapons capable of destroying whole cities. You could follow a similar idea:

Civilization has regressed but technological relics from the past still exist.

People don't understand them and so they believe them to be magic, so much time has passed that these things are very rare and no suitable technology exists that allows people to understand how these relics function.

EDIT There are many possible reasons for something like this happening:

  • Nuclear war (or some major war), this is the method that Mortal Engines and Adventure Time uses
  • Disease wipes out almost everyone on earth
  • Global warming reduces population
  • Meteorite hits the earth and humans regress etc
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  • $\begingroup$ Good answer, but why civilisation regressed? What happened? This is the part where I am struggling the most $\endgroup$ – Pavel Janicek Nov 6 '14 at 14:36
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry I didn't see that you'd mentioned it as your last point. Isn't the concept of what happened some what irrelevant to your question though? If the people in your world don't know how to tech works they probably don't know what happened to the race that got there. More to the point: There is no answer. This is a very opinion based thing to need an answer for. Any possible idea can be thrown at this e.g: nuclear war, meteorite, disease, alien invasion. I'm not really sure what answer you're looking for. $\endgroup$ – sydan Nov 6 '14 at 14:48
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Politics and Religion can be handy tools to create situations such as this, probably working hand in hand. It may make sense for a cabal of political and religious leaders to decide that a feudalist dictatorship would be "better" for everyone and that in order to maintain it they must crack down on the availability and level of technology.

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