Ringworld | Photo: Hill, CC BY-SA 3.0
I’m not the biggest fan of Game of Thrones. I say this based purely on the fact that I haven’t made the time to catch up on any of the episodes that I haven’t seen, which is all of them back up to… well I haven’t quite seen the Red Wedding yet. So there’s that. And I tried to read the books, but after two incestuous relationships in the first two hundred pages I put the book down for a few days, then got distracted and forgot about it until I had to give it back to the person who’d very nicely lent it to me. As I say, I’m not the biggest fan, even though I’ve quite enjoyed the bits I’ve seen.
That said, the idea of a world where the seasons come for unpredictable durations has and continues to strike me as, well, rather peculiar. And I’m not the only one. io9 here has five ideas (well, four and “all of the above”) including a wobbly axis, bizarre ocean currents, and more, and some researchers at Johns Hopkins have suggested a binary star system might be the culprit. But I’d like to take my inspiration from the shows opening credits, instead:
You’ll notice something a little odd about the map (aside from its glorious clockwork-esque appearance): it’s on the inside of a sphere. In the center of the sphere, in the “sky,” is a star surrounded by rotating rings. While the distances are all wrong, I’d like to put forward the possibility that this map gets something right about the nature of the world in which it takes place.
Imagine you’re an incredibly advanced civilization, and you’re very hungry for energy. You have a huge population, too, but don’t have enough room for everyone on your piddling little planet. So you set about building a megastructure around your star. A planet only gets the light from one point in the orbit, but a Ringworld captures light from the whole orbit. A Dyson Sphere or matrioshka satellite system could capture all the light entirely in all directions.
Now there do appear to be poles, or at least colder areas at the north and south of the map, which suggests to me that it’s more likely to be a ring — the top and bottom of the ring might be further from the star, or the ring might be shaped in such a way that the angle at which light hits it (as with our tilted poles) leads to a longer trip through the atmosphere, and therefore more attenuated sunlight and colder regions. Day and night — or even the seasons — might be the results of other structures designed to capture sunlight for its energy use elsewhere, like the rings circling the star in the opening credits.
But wait, you say, they fight with swords and shields. These are not the kind of people who could build such a structure.
Well, no. But by the same token, the folks who’d build a megastructure like a Ringworld wouldn’t leave something like seasons to something as haphazard as chance either. That’s where the next part comes in: it’s failing.
At some point in this Ringworld’s long, long, history, something’s happened to its builders. They’ve gone. Either their civilization broke down, or they evolved (literally or technologically) to no longer care about the Ringworld. Maybe they’re beings of pure thought that travel space and time getting their kicks by toying with starship captains. Whatever the case, they’re not around to keep things in balance anymore, and the folks who are left behind don’t even know about space travel, let alone about taking care of a megastructure.
So maybe the ring’s developed a wobble. Maybe the swarms of energy-harvesting orbiters aren’t as in time with each other as they used to be, and they’re collecting too much sunlight sometimes, cooling the planet for years at a time. It’s an old system, and without someone to take care of it, it’s every so slowly falling into disrepair.
This abandoned technology would also explain some of the other bizarre occurrences in this world. Magic, in its varied forms, might well be some kind of intuitive-response nanotechnology, making use of some of that harvested solar energy to do things like repair the bodies of people chopped in two, or reanimating the (very cold) dead and keeping them alive despite the cold. Perhaps only some people can direct it because of genetic lineage, or because (like everything Apple) one person’s “intuitive design” is another’s “inscrutable an impossible to use without instructions.”
Anyhow, that’s my theory, love it or leave it. There’s probably things it can’t explain, and it’s probably of questionable usefulness to even try, but if you wanted to know what I thought, that’s it: a failing alien megastructure.
You’re welcome (?).
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Richard Ford Burley is a human, writer, and doctoral candidate at Boston College, as well as an editor at Ledger, the first academic journal devoted to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In his spare time he writes about science, skepticism, feminism, and futurism here at This Week In Tomorrow.