Character Stakes in Post-Scarcity Novels

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 Post Scarcity and Post Singularity novels have a problem of giving interesting conflicts to characters. When scarcity is no longer a concern (or sometimes even death!) what are the stakes for characters? 

C'est la question qu'a posé SF Signal a plusieurs auteurs. Voici la réponse de Paul McAuley : 

Citation:
There are already two models for fiction set in post-scarcity worlds. The first model is perhaps best exemplified in some of the short stories and novels of Greg Egan, in which some kind of post-scarcity civilisation is implied but knowledge is as yet unevenly distributed, and characters are motivated by curiosity and the need to unravel cosmic mysteries or explore the implications of physical manifestations of outliers of physics or mathematics. A very pure form of science fiction in which the search for knowledge is not disguised as a treasure hunt or sullied by material greed. The second model is found in the Culture novels of Iain Banks and in Star Trek (which if not post-scarcity in the strict sense - lack of dilithium crystals often being a plot-driver, for instance - is at least an example of a fictional world in which resources are evenly distributed). In both cases, it's assumed that there are plenty of unincorporated worlds and civilisations outside the boundaries of the Culture or the Federation which represent either a threat or a chance for examination, adventure, or some kind of attempt at uplift or enlightenment. It could be argued that this displacement of story from the centre to the edge and beyond is a kind of cop-out, since they aren't actually stories about the post-scarcity civilisation or the ordinary lives of its citizens. But the barbarian, hostile or post-collapse worlds are at the least useful mirrors or alternatives to the values of those civilisations, and in the best of this kind of story (more often in the Culture novels than Star Trek) the nature and fate of the outsiders are not only shown to change or have value to the internal politics of the post-scarcity civilisation, but also to affect and change the lives of the adventurers who encounter and interact with them. 

There are, of course, many other kinds of post-scarcity stories. After all, while post-scarcity civilisations may no longer support tales of lost inheritances or the construction of financial empires, they may still contain just as much human foolishness and caprice as any of ours. See, for example, Michael Moorcock's Dancers at the Edge of Time series. Universal lack of want does not preclude romantic rivalries and misunderstandings, or schisms and discord over religion, philosophy, or whether clam chowder is better with cream or tomatoes. If post-scarcity worlds are utopias, they are dynamic utopias. Their inhabitants are not yet perfect. Hearts may still be broken; so might heads.


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