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Information behind the world I'm building:

FTL interstellar travel moves at around >1 light-year per day. Most interstellar planets are several tens of light-years distant. There aren't a great deal of interstellar worlds. Around >20. Information travels much faster than crew and cargo. Around 3 light-years per hour. Interstellar travel is fairly cheap. Larger corporations can afford it. People live a great deal of time. Several centuries. Interstellar, populated worlds are no where near as industrialized as Earth. They are in the beginnings of terra-formation and civilization.

Mainly, what kinds of raw or manufactured materials are worth shipping across stellar distances? What sort of things could one solar system lack and another have in abundance? What kinds of trade were used in other star-spanning sci-fi or fiction stories?

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    $\begingroup$ If you look at the "related questions" list on the right, you'll see a question "Which goods make sense to transport...". If you then look at the actual question, you'll see it was closed as a duplicate because two other questions had already answered the question. You should probably check all three questions out and see if your question is already answered and if not add on explanation why not to your question. Otherwise it will probably end up closed as a duplicate as well, which is kind of annoying. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Nov 3 '17 at 1:32
  • $\begingroup$ The mobile version of this page provided no 'related questions' tab, and thus, I did not see it. I looked through those forums, and they did well giving me insight, but I think I'd like to keep this post up and here just to see what response might follow (either it being flagged as a duplicate or someone offering their expertise I suspect). I'm still curious as to what sorts of trade were employed by other sci-fi authors. $\endgroup$ – B.fox Nov 3 '17 at 1:55
  • $\begingroup$ at 1 ly per day which is 'steroid on ludicrous speed then on steriod' whatever that means, no wonder they quickly run out of fuel ;D $\endgroup$ – user6760 Nov 3 '17 at 2:46
  • $\begingroup$ Drugs, euphoria-inducing foods, spices, and artistic expression. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Nov 3 '17 at 4:44
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    $\begingroup$ This sounds like it's basically the same question as what colonies would trade during the age of sail. $\endgroup$ – chrylis -on strike- Nov 3 '17 at 6:17
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Recipes

Wait, what? Yep, recipes. And I don't mean just food items either. I'm talking about blueprints, schematics, and plans for technology items. They're not heavy, don't take up much room, and can be quite valuable.

Depending on the relationship between any two planets, it could be a licensing deal (ie selling permission to use for some time), or a one-time deal (permission to use forever). The latter, of course, would be much more expensive. But if the two planets don't have any kind of patent reciprocity, it's the best you can do.

Now that it comes up, don't forget actual, well ... recipes. If the locals on a remote planet have similar preferences, you could sell the recipe for tollhouse cookies, and make a bundle. Or the almighty apfelstrudel... ;D

Update after comments

The reason to bring the information in person (I should have expanded on this earlier) is that in many cases it will be difficult to actually implement the technology even with instructions. I'm envisioning a clan of space-gypsy general consultants who sell the information and then stick around long enough to help the customers through the growing pains. If the tech you're selling isn't a small incremental improvement on what the customer already has, they'll be glad you stuck around.

Imagine you're selling them advanced battery technology. The customer will do better if you help him through setting up his factory. If he goes it solo there will be way more explosions per capita than if you stay.

Not to mention you'll want to stay on the foreign planet for a while to investigate what they have that you can bring back to your planet. You'll need some training before you can adequately sell what they have.

And, of course, you can be carrying psychoactive spices, gold, nutmeg, or tulips in the hold of your ship as "ballast"... ;D

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    $\begingroup$ Well why would that need travel? It's just information we could move around 70 times faster than actually travelling. We send it, you upload it to your local robot and it will start building. $\endgroup$ – Christoph Nov 3 '17 at 7:42
  • $\begingroup$ If the blueprint is not digital you'll have to ask yourself why you want it. If a civilization is advanced enough to host interesting blue prints, it will probably also be advanced enough to not have them in physical form. $\endgroup$ – Mixxiphoid Nov 3 '17 at 8:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Mixxiphoid Maybe they have suffered through their digital dark ages already, maybe even a few times, and eventually decided as a civilization that paper (or whatever material they use to write/print on) actually has its uses for preserving knowledge? Note that this doesn't necessarily mean that content can't be born digital, just that it's committed to non-digital form when done. We are able to read things like the Dead Sea Scrolls fine; you try reading a floppy disk from 40 years ago... $\endgroup$ – a CVn Nov 3 '17 at 8:15
  • $\begingroup$ It could be that a physical hard-copy of a blueprint is required for legal or security or cultural reasons. Or it could be that interstellar communication has poor throughput rate even if better latency, so a sort of stellar "sneaker-net" develops for larger volumes of data. $\endgroup$ – Alice Nov 3 '17 at 8:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Christoph I dropped some thoughts in as to why the traders might want to hand-deliver the recipes... $\endgroup$ – akaioi Nov 3 '17 at 14:56
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In any colonization, development, and trade scenario there will likely be some version of local "unobtanium". We have plenty of iron but not enough tin, manganese, indium and vanadium to make certain alloys. Certain families of symbiotic bacteria die off easily because the bright line spectra of the local star has one or two more bright lines than good old terra. So fertilizers AND pro-biotics are necessary to grow crops. Or maybe there is no local conditions suitable for growing coffee or cocoa. (Would anybody really live there? I wouldn't without coffee/chocolate imports!) And as long as you are world building, it is pretty easy to imagine if someone thought underwriting colonization cost was worthwhile, then this place also probably has something unique worth shipping out as its own trade goods. Freight companies hate deadheading. (a term for paying the cost of fuel to carry an empty cargohauler.)

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  • $\begingroup$ For example, there's an entire planet full of diamonds! google.ru/amp/s/amp.space.com/… $\endgroup$ – user2851843 Nov 3 '17 at 6:16
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    $\begingroup$ +1 transport is based on need, not on what is available. $\endgroup$ – Mixxiphoid Nov 3 '17 at 8:13
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What kinds of trade were used in other star-spanning sci-fi or fiction stories?

The spice must flow.

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  • $\begingroup$ Self-sealing stembolts, too. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Nov 3 '17 at 3:48
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    $\begingroup$ Well yeah, after some planets legalized "Medical Melange" due to a galaxy-spanning outbreak of glaucoma and non-localized pains... ;D $\endgroup$ – akaioi Nov 3 '17 at 5:11
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The answer to your question depends strongly on how expensive an interstellar voyage is. If star ships are comparable in price to buy and run to large container ships then you could expect what we see in sea cargos – almost anything. If the costs are more like those for aircraft then the goods would be restricted to higher value items. If the costs were more like those of running a current day space craft then the goods would be very limited to the highest cost technology and absolute essentials.

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People - Immigrants from neighboring planets that each have a personal story as to why they want to move. Technology - The different systems could be at varying levels of technological advancement, and societies could trade differing inventions and applications of resources. Manufactured Goods - Where one civilization is suffering from a lack of certain material, they would probably be very eager to trade with a different civilization who had the resource and used that material to create products. Products will need circulation, even interstellar. And of course, Resources- Each planet is only going to have a certain amount of a certain material, and as a species advances, resources are spent. As to what materials, it would just be varying amounts of the basic elements and certain compounds, depending on the planet's location and environment.

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    $\begingroup$ I like this notion. Seem to recall Dickson's Dorsai novels. Interstellar trade of specialists (scientists, mercenaries, administrators, psychologists) was the driver of the interstellar economy... $\endgroup$ – akaioi Nov 3 '17 at 16:27
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Look at Shipping Costs, not just Shipping Times

Assume that refined unobtaininum is 5% cheaper in system A than in system B because it is more abundant, and that the manufacturing process wastes 5% of the material (recovery is not economical).

You need unobtainium bolts in system B. Do you take local unobtainium and manufacture the parts in B, do you import unobtainium from A and manufacture in B, or do you import manufactured unobtainium parts from A? Depends on how much the shipping costs.

Then there is Comparative Advantage

Say system A (with some unobtainium deposits) has an airless world, a couple of gas giants, asteroids, etc. They have no world that would be habitable in shirtsleeves. Growing grapes to make good wine is difficult. System B has both a nice world (again with some unobtainium deposits).

Again you need unobtainium bolts in B. System B could produce them domestically and system A could grow their own wine. But if transport is cheap enough, then both will benefit if A makes unobtainium bolts for both systems and B makes wine for both systems.

(How exactly the benefits are split depends on exchange rate mechanisms.)

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Culture

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Holographic Art Center (Image Source)

A roll of toilet paper is a roll of toilet paper no matter where you make it. But culture is always unique. Hence culture will need to be traded if you want to experience it in a place separate from where it was created.

For example...

In short: anything that is created by an artist.

The culture-wares can be both tangible and intangible. The point is they need to be moved from the artist to the consumer since that same piece cannot be created locally.

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Diamonds

Carbon Planets are a theoretical type of exoplanet that has an abundance of carbon. As a result, it's been theorized that such a planet would be rich in carbon containing compounds like diamond, graphite, and hydrocarbons like crude oil, tar and methane.

Probably a good place for a manned mining station, but carbon planets will likely not have oxygen atmospheres or water, so that's something to keep in mind if your people are only just starting to terraform. It would likely be an engineering challenge.

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    $\begingroup$ If you can bring up enough energy to travel 1ly per day, you will certainly have enough energy to fabricate diamonds. Sorry, but diamonds are cheap now and not worth transporting. $\endgroup$ – Mixxiphoid Nov 3 '17 at 8:10
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Bitcoin! Cryptocurrencies are solutions to NP problems which cost energy and other resources to solve. They can trade the solution to such problems.

Anti-matter is very expensive to produce to. So are heavy elements in large quantities. Gold is rare, everywhere!

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