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What Survives and What is Lost

In Eirelan I made a number of choices regarding the technological conditions of 39th century Europe. In my future history, the so-called “Age of Machines” comes to an end around 3,000 AD, and the Province of the Twenty Clans is founded during the tumult of the collapse. The story itself takes place another ten centuries later. In that intervening period most “modern technology” is lost: there is no electricity, very little mining or smelting of ores, and no industrial mass production. Metal is now scare and used primarily for weapons, farm implements, parts of sailing vessels, heating stoves, and a small variety of precision items such as clocks and compasses. Gunpowder and firearms are not produced except as expensive toys, partly because of scarcity of materials and partly out of a powerful desire not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Some changes, however, have been positive and contribute to an acceptable level of comfort in many parts of the Celtic world. Population is now low and forests have rebounded, so wood is plentiful and can be used for heating, shipbuilding. housing, and vehicles. The air is once again clean and low in greenhouse gases. Until the beginning of a Little Ice Age—signaled by the Five Long Winters—the climate was benign and food plentiful. Sailing ship technology has returned to the era of the 18 century: navigation is reasonably accurate over the distances normally traversed and weather prediction as accurate as can be achieved with a barometer and experience.

With the exception of firearms and cannons, it would not be inaccurate to picture the world of Eirelan as similar to colonial America in the days of Washington’s youth. The sole and important exception is medicine, which is more akin to the best of Greek and Roman practice than to the barbaric vestiges of the Middle Ages. In the Province, no one is bled to cure illness and no toxic potions of mercury and antimony are administered. Physicians such as Mor Dal Reti have a very good conception of how not to harm a patient. Medicine is not primitive but must rely on natural substances for drugs and what we would regard as rudimentary surgical tools.

These are admittedly not the only choices that could be made. Some might argue that arms races inevitably lead back to firearms and cannons and that competitive urges bring on steam power and smoke-belching factories. Maybe and maybe not. The people of the Province regard with horror what they know of the Age of Machines. As Seanlaoch says in the opening passage of Chapter 1, they look back and see “the machines which had brought mankind low and torn the beautiful earth asunder.” It is both a necessity and a choice that they seek not to rebuild the machines of our day.

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