S’Mary’s World: Magnus Albert

Magnus Albert is the name given to the mother house of the Albertine Order on S’Mary’s World, also known as St. Mary’s-without-the-Arm. To the Albertines the first colonists gave the task of preserving the Archives, the collected library of the colony ship Our Lady of Loreto, and disseminating its contents to the colonists as and when and in such measure as the colony was ready to make use of them. To this end Magnus Albert was built into the side of a mountain, Albertus Mons, into which chambers were carved to house the Archives. The intent was to maintain the Archives in a controlled environment with low humidity and constant temperature, rather than to provide for defensive fortifications; but in times of social strife the site of Magnus Albert was heavily fortified, and remains so to this day.

The design of the Archives at Magnus Albert reflected the realities of life on a planet with a small population (initially, less than 10,000 individuals). Any level of technology depends on two things: an adequate supply of the required natural resources (from coal and iron to the rare earths) and a sufficiently large population to both harvest them and make use of them. The higher the technology, the wider the range of required skills and the more effort it will take to find and process the materials. The colonists brought with them the technological level of their day, a level which they could not support after the machines wore out. It was clear to them that they needed to regress to a lower level of technology and build a stable society upon it before that happened; and then, to progress up the technological ladder as resources, population, and education permitted.

Therefore, the first Albertines built the Archives on the notion of technological triage. (It is often claimed that the work of triage was done by the Loreto‘s captain, John St. Cloude, as a work of penance, but the consensus of scholars outside the Albertine Order is that this is no more than a pious legend.) Those technologies that would be immediately useful and accessible to the colonists were made available first: the plow, irrigation, crop rotation, tanning, weaving, candle-making, and so forth. Paper-making and ink-making were also made a top priority, as these were essential for the spread of knowledge from Magnus Albert to the other colonists. These technologies once mastered enabled other technologies, and these others, so on. Thanks to data from the Von Neumann Survey of S’Mary’s World, and the Loreto‘s own orbital scans, it was possible to locate the new colony close to as many surface resources as possible.

As a result of this triage, the Archives were structured as a series of modules, each unlocked by mastery of its predecessor. In the popular imagination, consequently, the Archives are thought to be contained in a series of vaults, stretching back chamber by chamber into the heart of Albertus Mons, and each locked against untoward access. The scholarly consensus is that this romantic image is true in principle, though undoubtedly false in actuality; but as only senior members of the Albertine Order are allowed into the oldest parts of the Archives complex the truth of the matter is unknown.

The resulting path of technological development bears only a minimal resemblance to that of Old Earth. Stirrups, developed late in the history of Old Earth, were in use on S’Mary’s World from the beginning of animal husbandry, and Gutenberg-style printing presses were devised as soon as the colonists had sufficient skill with metallurgy to cast the required type. Stirling engines were in use from a relatively early date to drive wood lathes and other tools; steam engines came much later, due to the need for high-pressure containers, and internal combustion engines later still.

The effective control of technological progress by the Albertines was both a positive benefit to the people of S’Mary’s World and a point of contention; it was the latter that led to the formation of the Knights of St. Albert to protect both the Albertines and the Archives. This control continued until the time of the Wars of Irreligion; as the population grew, so too grew the number of skilled craftsmen capable of making new inventions on their own. Misguided attempts by the Albertines and the Prefecture to clamp down on unregulated inventiveness were undoubtedly a contributing factor to the wars. By the end of the Times of Exile the Archives, still closely protected by the Albertines, were more a legend and a curiosity than a source of new technologies.

It is important to note that the Archives contained much more than technological know-how; they also contained the combined literature and history of Old Earth. Many works were made available to the colonists from the earliest days, copying resources permitting, including the Catechism of the Catholic Church, philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas, and other authors such as Shakespeare, Tolkien, Lewis, and Habstock (the colonists being primarily English speakers); others were tied to particular technology modules and were released with them. It was no part of the first colonist’s plans to abandon their culture; rather, they wished to retain as much of it as they could at any given time.

At the time of writing, the Albertines remain a potent force in primary education on S’Mary’s World; and the University at Magnus Albert is the planet’s leading institute of higher learning.

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  • http://acatholicviewoftheworld.wordpress.com/ Roki

    This is fascinating. But I’m curious about the secrecy regarding advanced technology. If the barrier to technological innovation is access to natural resources and manpower, why add the barrier of ignorance? Especially if the cultural and historical archives are free and open to all – wouldn’t they read Flannery O’Connor or C.S. Lewis and wonder about the cars? Wouldn’t they read the Catechism and wonder about the “means of mass communication” or “modern scientific weapons”? Wouldn’t they know their own history, of the level of technology needed to bring them from Earth to S’Mary’s World in the first place? Why, then, would they accept “a series of modules, each unlocked by mastery of its predecessor”? Why not have the whole archive open and available, so that at least everybody can see the path they’re following on the tech tree, and maybe so that the occasional eccentric genius can find a shortcut?

    Now, I can understand if there’s a significant cultural reason to keep most of the people in the dark about technology. But it’s not clear to me yet what this is. Honestly, that’s a story I’d love to hear: why a stranded colony would consider the micromanagement of technological advancement such a high priority. Just thinking out loud, perhaps it would be because resources are so thin at the start, that the leadership sees a tech path which will bring long-term prosperity but is high risk and/or requires intensely focused and coordinated effort to achieve. I would hate to be the captain or prefect to make that decision for generations to come!

    I hope I’m not spoiling your project with my nitpickery. S’Mary’s World is delightful, and I’m very much enjoying the exploration of this world you’re building! Do you have a specific story you’re planning to tell, or do you have a series of adventures set all in this world? In any case: thank you!

    • Will Duquette

      The conceit for these posts is that the author is an historian writing about S’Mary’s World after the end of the Times of Exile. But historians only know what was reported and remembered, and that’s not everything….

      As for making everything simply available to everyone, you have to remember that the Archives were originally solely in electronic form. They wanted to keep the electronics working as long as possible, which meant that they couldn’t allow open access. All that people had available were those texts that the Albertines worked to make available on paper; and you can’t do everything at once.

    • Will Duquette

      Oh, and to answer the other question: I’ve got at least one story in mind, and ideas for one or two others; finding time to write them is the difficulty. I find I can make up history fairly quickly, but writing a real story takes longer.