The final part in the series.
All the family members have visited Earth. Zylogrius visited several times when younger, and George visited once as a young man; a few years ago, the entire family spent a month there. Earth is a popular, if expensive, holiday destination – though generally visits are only made to one of a few dozen resorts owned by Venus and operated by Cythereans. Most Cythereans have little interest in meeting Earthicans, and most Earthicans are somewhat hostile to them. Cytherean visits to earth, therefore, generally focus on the one thing Venus doesn’t have: geography. Mountains, seas, forests, deserts – Cytherean resorts are typically located in remote areas of outstanding natural beauty, and hiking is probably the most popular activity they offer. Cythereans often return from Earth filled with wistful regret and envy – but they know that if they moved to Earth, they would likely just be trapped in a city anyway. Besides, not only are Earthicans hostile to Cythereans, but their social system is barbaric and unjust. It’s just a shame that Earth is wasted on Earthicans.
Nobody in the family has visited Europa, Mars, Uranus, or any of the Colony Worlds or Settlement Stations. The former three appear boring and not worth the trip; the latter are too remote, and too Earthican. The only planets most Cythereans might one day want to visit are Battuta and possibly Burton – but with trips costing several times the cost of a holiday on Earth, few ever bother.
For leisure purposes, that is. Many Cythereans do join the Fleet. In part, this is a tradition dating from the early years of both the Fleet and Venus, when Venereans were among the few space-travellers, and used to the cramped conditions of early aerostats. In part, it is connected to the Fleet’s sizeable presence on and around the planet – Venus’ orbit is home to a large defensive armada, and although the crews are kept quartered on Fleet-owned cities on Venus, the ubiquity of ‘shore leave’ parties ensures that the Fleet has a high profile. In turn, Cythereans make up a disproportionate percentage of the Fleet’s personel – particularly its officer corp.
That does not – yet – matter much to this family, however. Peter and Titus both considered military careers, but Peter opted for respectable zymology instead; Titus went as far as a year of military school (having grown out of the brief idea of becoming a Fleet Companion, one of those well-renumerated heroines and heroes of the species who jaunt between the stars, offering comfort and companionship to Fleet crews), but the rigid discipline did not appeal. Both children still have a hope of joining the Fleet at a later date – if they succeed in becoming an expert zymologist and a highly trained mechanist, they could become officers under a Special Programme. To be honest, though, many young Cythereans dream of joining the Fleet but never do – as with the dream of returning to Earth, the practicalities are far less appealing than the advertising imagery.
Astropolitical Issues for Venus
George and Zylogrius have very little to do with astropolitics, but we should probably sum up a few points here nonetheless. Most importantly: what is Venus for? What justifies its existence? How are a billion and a half people economically capable of living – indeed, living in some comfort, if not in luxury – on a planet with seemingly no natural resources, where even the air they breathe most be expensively manufactured?
Well, Venus has a surprising number of sources of wealth. These include:
Immigration: like all colonies, Venus makes money from immigrants, not only by charging for immigration passes, but by allocating those passes through a lottery. This also provides an indirect profit through taxation – although Venus has no income taxes (there is no need, when all income derives from the Guilds, who fund the State directly), it does have a near-total inheritence tax, so wealthy Earthicans who come to live on Venus end up handing over all their wealth on their death. This may not appeal to Earthican archons with their preoccupation with familial legacies, but it seems like a good bargain to many minor relatives of archons, more interested in living well today than in passing on wealth to the next generation. Ultimately, of course, there is no fundamental reason for migration to Venus, other than that Venus – both physically and culturally – is not Earth; this, however, is more than enough to attract millions hoping for a better life.
Tourism: unlike almost all colonies, Venus is close enough to Earth for tourism to be affordable for the masses. A trip to Venus is certainly not a cheap affair, but it is not unattainable – almost all rich Earthicans, most middle-class Earthicans, and even some poor Earthicans will visit Venus at least once. The main lure is the simple thrill on being on an alien world – humans may have been spacetravellers for over five hundred years, they may have dozens of outposts around dozens of far-off stars, but for the teeming billions of Old Earth, even the cloudscapes of Venus are captivatingly exotic. Of course, tourists do more than take shuttle cruises and stare into the brilliantly white sky from garden terraces; while they’re here, they take in the traditional entertainments of casinos, luxury hotels, and (if they’re wealthy enough) prostitutes, as well as some more modern attractions, like the art galleries, high-class gaming arcades, shopping for handmade Venusian craftwares, and so forth. Venus was built on tourism, an extraterrestrial Las Vegas, and though tourism is no longer quite so indispensible to the planet it nonetheless remains a huge part of the economy.
Heavy Industry: energy is cheap on Venus, comparatively speaking. The planet has huge resources of heat: factory shuttles descend into the lower atmosphere to heat their contents to up to 450 degrees celsius, and if desired to pressurise their contents to up to ninety times Earth atmospheric pressure – all for no more cost than the price of a single flight (shuttles that can withstand this heat are expensive, but, once built, their travel costs are actually lower than those of aeroplanes on Earth, thanks to the thick atmosphere and high windspeed). Just as importantly, Venus’ factories have no need to worry about pollution – their atmosphere is already hellish, so pollution can hardly make it worse. Accordingly, toxic byproducts are happily spewed into the air, and tholin oil can be burnt freely, without the need to worry (as on Earth) about sequestering carbon emissions. Manufacturing costs are therefore far lower on Venus than on Earth, which in many cases compensates for the higher cost of materials, and Venus has a thriving industrial sector, particularly in the manufacture of chemicals.
Expertise: Cytherean children grow up typically with a combination of parental tutelage and academic teaching – it’s an intensive education regime of direct adult-child interaction that contrasts markedly with the large class sizes and widespread automation of education that are the norm for most people on Earth. Cythereans then typically pursue extensive vocational training with their chosen Guild. The end-product is a planet of disciplined, intelligent, experts who excel in collective working environments. Unsurprisingly, Cythereans who leave Venus, either permanently or temporarily, have no difficulty in finding lucrative employment elsewhere – they can be found in skilled occupations throughout the human expanse, and in large numbers on Earth itself. The money they send back (either at the time or when they return) is a small but significant portion of the planet’s wealth. A particular area of Cytherian influence is zymology – although zymoculture takes place on all human worlds, Venus pioneered its large-scale application, and remains at the forefront of zymocultural progress; a substantial part of Earth’s own zymoculture is controlled by Venus through the Morningstar Food Corporation.
Collective Action: the Morningstar Food Corporation is just one example of perhaps Venus’ greatest asset – its unity. The Consyndical Union of Venus, combining the assets of the Guilds and Cities of Venus (and hence almost all assets on the planet, as individuals technically own very little), is the wealthiest single legal entity in the human expanse, and it is able to use this immense capital to acquire favourable prices for its goods and low costs for its requirements, and to invest in a broad and secure but nonetheless profitable portfolio of assets throughout all human civilisation.
Military Funding: Venus has a sizeable military significance. In addition to the squadrons designated for its own protection, it also hosts defensive fighter squadrons to react to any threat anywhere in the system, and large military cities that not only hold the crews for these ships but also extensive training facilities. This military presence brings payment, both direct (compensation payments from the Fleet) and indirect (the money spent by crews during ‘shoreleave’).
Financial Stability: Venus since the Revolution has been remarkably boring, financially-speaking. In particular, Venus’ legal currency, the dollar, has been continually appreciating against the ECU (the unified currency of all other human populations) – the ECU has seen inflation due to the extensive use of microfractional-reserve-banking, with periods of dramatic money supply expansion to stave off deflation on Earth, while Venus has seen steady deflation (as regards the dollar; in practice most transactions actually take place in guilders, which have avoided this deflation, being very peculiar things with degenerating values and limited exchangeability). As a result, there is a strong desire to put money into dollars as a stable investment. This is difficult, because currency exchanges are strictly limited to avoid speculative volatility, but this just drives up the cost of dollars further, increasing the wealth of Venus. More generally, Venus’ aversion to risky business practices and lack of competitive instinct lead to the planet being considered the home of financial security – putting money into the Bank of Venus may not make much profit but is, as it were, the gold standard of a safe investment.
Venus is, therefore, a financially secure planet. But it does face some problems. These include:
Ethnic Tensions: the divide between Venereans and Venusians may no longer be on the verge of open warfare, and it is fashionable to deny the divide entirely. Certainly, on a cultural level there is less distinction than ever. But these identities have not entirely gone away, and can lead to widespread disharmony when triggered. Moreover, small pockets of hardliners on each side can pose significant security risks – only twenty years ago the Reflection III of Narcissus was destroyed by a bomb planted by Venusian terrorists.
Failure to integrate into the Protectorate: Venus has never really been fully committed to the Protectorate. It retains its own currency, it de facto maintains its own small freighter fleet (theoretically owned by the Fleet itself, but rented out to Venus in perpetua, with Venus allowed to appoint the crews), and it has always avoided fully implementing the propaganda measures demanded by the Fleet in the interests of panhumanism. There is a sense that the population of Venus – certainly the more traditional Veneran elements – stand aside from the rest of humanity. They are given more latitude to do this than any other human population – partly because of the planet’s significance, but more because of its influence within the Fleet. Traditionally a significant portion of the officer corp was Venerean, and the Protectorate has always seen the Venerean Revolution as a precursor and role model for its own coup d’etat. But the size of the Veneran officer corp is now reducing as the Fleet becomes more diverse. It is questionable whether the Fleet will allow Venus to retain all its current autonomy forever.
The Birth Rate: Venus’ birth rate is abnormally high by 26th-century standards. This poses a dilemma both for Venus and for the Fleet. On the one hand, Venus is proud of its growth, and its growing significance, and its future as a more populous planet; on the other hand, there is concern that the high (and rising) birth rate is diluting living standards for the population. Immigration and tourism, for instance, limited as they are more by available transport than by population, now provide much less income per capita than once they did, and similarly the benefit from the strong banking sector is not growing to match the growing population. The costs of food and energy are only remaining stable because of the generosity of the Fleet – if the Fleet takes a less accomodating line and refuses to reassign ships to the provisioning of Venus, Venus will either have to cut its population or else come to terms with a new standard of living. The Fleet, meanwhile, has similarly mixed views. It is happy to see human population growing anywhere – more people is good. And more people not on Earth is even better. But is Venus really the best place for all these people – wouldn’t it be better if they lived somewhere with more local resources, and somewhere more strategically distant from Earth? The growing population is boosting the local heavy industry sector, but these people might contribute more elsewhere. The Fleet is currently remaining well-disposed toward Venus’ childbirth issues largely because it is locked in an internal debate between those who wish to force Venus to lower its population growth and those who wish to encourage the births but also encourage emigration to other planets. This debate may continue for a long time to come… or may come to an end at any time, with serious repercussions either way for Venus.