How would a low-tech and high-tech society interact in under the following conditions?

  • The high-tech civilisation has developed inter planetary transport by using wormhole
  • The low-tech civilisation believes the high-tech one to be gods and worship them
  • The high-tech civilisation is not interested in the other society aside from occasional scientific expedition
  • My goal in this is to create a world from which I can write both science fiction and medieval people who have access to some 'magic' from the high tech race
  • The technology that the low tech civilisation have common access to are similar to classical element manipulation (fire, water, air and earth)
  • Because of a spaceship crash there are a few rare technological devices that all function in unique ways.
  • Both races are humanoid
  • They are equally intelligent, just one race has been around longer

closed as too broad by Philipp, overactor, Gilles, ArtOfCode, Monty Wild Feb 3 '15 at 21:42

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    $\begingroup$ This is a really broad question. Can you try to narrow it down a bit to what kind of interaction you are talking about? $\endgroup$ – Philipp Feb 3 '15 at 10:58
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    $\begingroup$ Like Harry Potter wizards meets muggles in Star Trek? $\endgroup$ – tls Feb 3 '15 at 11:45
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    $\begingroup$ There's a ton of prior art on high-tech venerated by low-tech and mysterious high-tech artifacts in a low-tech society, have you done some reading? For example Zelazny's Lord of Light, many Schekley short stories, Vance's Dying Earth series, Lindskold's Firekeeper series, … Also cargo cult in the real world. The possibilities are endless. $\endgroup$ – Gilles Feb 3 '15 at 14:25
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    $\begingroup$ I would suggest narrowing your question to a specific aspect of their interaction. Religion, or trade for example. $\endgroup$ – James Feb 3 '15 at 14:30
  • $\begingroup$ Are the two distinct races, or the same species just at two separate tech levels? If the low tech race had a specific trait that hindered development...such as a natural brain feature that inhibited their ability to learn written language...would make this easier to justify. $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Feb 3 '15 at 19:51

I'd like to weigh in on this bullet point:

The technology that the low tech civilisation have common access to are similar to > > classical element manipulation (fire, water, air and earth)

Perhaps this technology is not native to the low-tech people, but was in effect an industrial "accident" much like oil-spills from our supertankers. The high tech had a spill of something (radiation, chemical, nanomachinery, etc.) which altered the low-tech people to sometimes express traits that look magical.

Take a low-tech Pyromancer for example: To the low-techs he's been gifted with fire by the gods (or spirits) and his ability to project fire from his hands is nothing more then a trained muscle like action to the pyromancer; something akin to flexing a muscle. The high-techs would be able to research this and see that a certain mixtures of nanomachinery normally dealing with thermal regulation in reactor cores. However, the nanomachinery was able to bind to the cells in his hands (something akin to symbiosis, trade function for materials to repair/run themselves) and treat it somewhat like their optimal running conditions. This could arise from "mixtures" of nano machine functions i.e. nano machines that operate weapon systems and ones that maintain cooling systems might produce a "cryomancer" effect when binding to a person (as opposed to starship systems).

This also provides a reason (although not the only reason) for the high-techs to visit:

High-Tech A: "Oops industrial accident, better make sure we didn't mess everything up."

High-Tech B: "Hmmm the low-techs seem fine" (Low tech shoots giant icicle at high-techs)

So naturally the high-techs would want to study these unintended consequences of industry and science.


I think you need a few things for the background

  1. Some sort of separate histories
  2. Some sort of barrier between the cultures
  3. Possibly some reason for the higher culture to detest or ignore the lower

Perhaps an environmental requirement of the higher culture that is absent for the lower would work; the lower culture can breathe a more polluted or sulphurous air, but living in the more hostile environment has limited their development.

There is room for all sorts of classic story elements in this setup:

  • Discovery of a conspiracy between the leaders of the primitives and the high-techs to maintain the division
  • A sudden medicinal need of the high-techs which necessitates the high-tech protagonist crossing into the primitive world seeking ancient medicine (also mineral need, see Avatar)
  • Star-crossed lovers from either side of the boundary
  • A primitive who secretly enters the high-tech world disguised as a high-tech

The interaction would depend on the history of the division; it could be a source of simmering discontent on one or both sides, or it could be an old almost forgotten thing where both sides have essentially accepted it (at least the leaders have).

There is a lot in it for the leaders of the worlds to maintain the separation; the high-techs don't want to be swamped by primitives, or particularly interested in helping them. By contrast, the leaders of the primitives have an incentive to maintain a story that the high-techs are bad in some way, to rein in the curious and maintain their own status in the primitive land.

This is why the conspiracy is tempting; the leaders of the primitives can make a nicer life for themselves by holding down the progress of the primitives in exchange for creature comforts and medicine from the high-techs. It could even be the primary mechanism of the separation between the cultures.

Ultimately all stories about other worlds and other cultures are really an exploration of our own nature and our own culture, so I'd expect this to look a lot like any place on Earth where one group is subdued for the benefit of another, and some members of the subdued are cast in the role of enabling the oppression. Slavery, Aborigine/Indian reservations, Workhouses in Dickensian England, the Irish Potato Famine, corruption of politicians by the Mafia, etc etc.

A great theme to add confusion to any story about a conspiracy is false conspiracy theories, which both cloud the issues and add a general skepticism for any one theory.

  • $\begingroup$ A high-tech who gets fed up with their world and goes to live a more "natural" life is another possible twist on this. For a bit of inspiration, think perhaps (with a twist of your own, obviously) Transsiberian or As far as my feet will carry me, or for that matter Lost in the Taiga by Vasily Peskov. I had another example in my mind as well but can't recall the exact title and can't seem to find it... $\endgroup$ – a CVn Feb 3 '15 at 21:27

Consider "uncontacted peoples" in the real world, mostly in South America but also in New Guinea.

The primitive civilization mostly rejects contact, arguably without knowing all relevant facts (like the benefits of modern medicine or agriculture). Or they consider freedom from interfering busybodies more important than antibiotics. Primitive doesn't mean stupid, and they know that loggers don't have their best interest at heart.

The advanced civilization mostly leaves them alone because of rugged terrain and because they respect that choice -- compare your third bullet point. Do-gooders in the advanced civilization do their best to protect the primitives from exploitation by scoundrels, unless the potential profits outweigh the moral concerns.

The problem with that is your fifth bullet point. Is this "element manipulation" undistinguishable from magic? If so, wouldn't the advanced civilization really want to find out? Unless they already know everything, of course.


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