Character Interview – Henrik Matah 2

TWV: Welcome back, Dr Matah. I was hoping you’d tell us about some of your work this time – and how you determined the development path you did.

“The choice of path wasn’t mine alone, of course. I discussed our options with not only the engineers but with all the other departments represented in the Iskander mission.”

TWV: A very quick recap for those unfamiliar with the problems of the Iskander is probably in order here.

“Yes, the commercial charter that was to take us to fulfill our development contracts on the colony world N-3 – to begin the basics of its technological development – went astray and brought us to an alternate Earth, called by its inhabitants Gaia. We did not know how to find our way back to ‘our universe’ – still don’t – and so we have had to build ourselves lives on Gaia.”

TWV: If any Earth people were to find themselves stranded on the 17th century Gaia, I’d suggest the hundred and ten specialists on the Iskander were probably the best qualified to cope.

“We did have advantages in that way, but even so, starting to build a technological infrastructure on a world without technology has been a labourious business.”

TWV: You had some useful technology on the Iskander that could be put to work in short order.

“We have the automated production facilities, but they were totally inadequate for the volumes of production we needed, even at the beginning. We had to start an industrial development.”

TWV: The steelworks and the steam engine plant?

“Yes. Not very innovative, but it made sense to follow the path the Industrial Revolution did on our world. We not only needed to produce and sell desirable products immediately to earn ourselves a living, we had to start training the local people to use them – to be able to repair and to build them, and of course, to need them.”

TWV: And the war materiel was your earliest product.

“I’m not proud of that, but war fighting innovations were the most profitable, at that stage. The people with the most money were the rulers and nobility in a 17th century kind of culture and they were the ones whose political squabbles most often led to open warfare.”

TWV: And Iskander’s assistance to the Autarch of Tarnland, fighting to free his country from the nations who had ruled it for a hundred years, resulted in spectacular victories that opened everyone’s eyes to the value of Iskander technology.

“Yes, but don’t think it was only our improved muskets, our cavalry revolvers, and our rifled cannon that gave his armies victory. You mentioned our useful technology that had travelled with us on the Iskander. The radios we had brought to help us in our development work on N-3 provided the Autarch’s forces with the instant intelligence that wins battles. While his opponents struggled to find their way through the ‘fog of war’, the Autarch’s commanders had Iskander officers with the radio communication links at their elbows – and satellite imagery from the orbiting starship – to provide sure information on which to base their actions.”

TWV: And the radio developments have been almost as successful as desirable products as the war materiel.

“Yes. Somewhere around 15% of all European merchant ships now carry radio receivers that give them accurate time for navigation and accurate, timely weather reports broadcast daily from the Iskander in its stationary, equatorial orbit.”

TWV: And many households and establishments have receivers to listen to the Iskander news broadcasts, as well as the advice and instruction programs that offer everything from cooking and health information to lessons in accounting and agriculture.

“Yes indeed. We have to admit we include healthy doses of propaganda with the news and information – nothing dishonest, but with a clear modern Iskander viewpoint instead of the time honoured, and often mistaken, Gaian ideas.”

TWV: And these radios are sold to anyone? Isn’t Iskander careful to keep strategical secrets?

“Oh sure, but we are mass producing the receiver chips aboard the Iskander. Not only does no Gaian know what principles the advanced radios operate under, they have no way of knowing how the components are made. No disrespect to the Gaians but they could no sooner reverse-engineer these radios to learn our communications technology than a monkey could understand electricity from toggling a light switch. All the radio users know is that putting the receivers in sunlight, to power them, enables the programs to come out of the speakers.”

TWV: I see. However you use a different path with the steam engine technology.

“Yes, because we are using steam as our instruction medium for creating the beginnings of a technological culture. We want Gaians to learn steam and become good mechanics, and good workers for our future developments. Mastering steam will result in a future work force that can handle the really modern technology many years in the future – perhaps in the world when the children and grandchildren of the present Iskanders will need them.”

TWV: Yes, this is a forever story you are building. I wish I had more time and space to continue this, but I must close now. Please come back sometime and tell us more about turning a simple world into a modern, complex one – and the pitfalls that must be avoided, too.

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