The so-called Impossible Dyson

The Impossible Dyson Sphere
Image from Steve Bowers
The world Felicidade was never successfully terraformed. Instead the I8 Scorpii system is now the site of the Impossible Dyson, a virtual cybercosm hosted inside a dynamically supported dyson shell

Felicidade - Data Panel

SystemFelicidade -the 'Impossible' Dyson Sphere
Star18 Scorpii
Distance from Sol45.7ly
Stellar TypeG2 Va2
Luminosity1.08 x Sol


The large terrestrial planet Felicidade was colonised by the Great South American Alliance following the Great Expulsion from Earth. This organisation was created by the former Greater Brazilian Administration and the Mar das Chuvas lunar colony to assist in the relocation of refugees from the continent of South America following the Expulsion. In total nearly a billion refugees were relocated from the southern continent at this time; most never left the Solar system, but were accommodated by rapid expansion of habitats on various asteroids and moons, notably on Proteus and Ganymede.

Four space arks departed from orbit around the Earth's Moon in 705 AT, each carrying twenty thousand colonists in suspended animation to the relatively distant star 18 Scorpii. One of these ships was lost in transit following a collision with space debris. A further three were built in following centuries in the asteroid belt, taking more than a hundred thousand more colonists to this system; more than three million other sudamerican refugees were sent to other star systems, some in poorly constructed 'Backyarder' ships; several ships did not arrive.

18 Scorpii is located 45 light years from the Sol System; it is one of the most Sunlike stars in the Inner Sphere, and was the target of intense scrutiny during the Interplanetary Age, as it was hoped that such a Sunlike-star would be accompanied by a suitably Earth-like planet. Unfortunately the 18 Sco planetary system had little in common with the worlds around Old Sol; two superterrestrial worlds with hot, thick atmospheres, each three or four times Earth's mass made up the inner system, while two distant, cold, ringed gas giants orbited far out in the darkness.

Image from Steve Bowers
Felicidade before the failed terraformation
Only 18 Sco b, christened Felicidade by the refugees seemed a possible candidate for terraforming, despite its heavy gravity and almost total lack of water this world could eventually be made habitable for specially adapted humans. While the preliminary work was being done on the long terraformation process, the large moon Ouro was quickly covered in pressurised habitats. This moon, and the cold moons of the outer giants rapidly became densely populated.

Between the two inner worlds and the two outer worlds was an extensive asteroid belt in several bands; this was exploited to an increasing extent during the First Federation period, as a number of O'Neill colonies, Bernal Spheres and Stanford tori were built. A number of icy bodies were diverted from the outer system (using slingshot assisted orbits around the innermost gas giant Gigante) to impact on Felicidade, while combined sunshade and solar power collector disks were constructed between the innermost planets and the local sun to cool those worlds down and provide power. But the terraformation of Felicidade was a slow process; the hot, reduced surface of the planet absorbed oxygen like a sponge, and the imported water caused an increase in volcanic activity when absorbed into the upper crust. Soon the surface of this heavy planet was partly covered in basalt flows, severely restricting the colonisation effort. Hi-gravity tweaks had been geneered soon after the arrival of the first colony ships, and had been living on the surface of the world in refrigerated habitats for thousands of years, or on balloon cities in the more temperate upper atmosphere; but with the continued volcanism the prospects of establishing an Earth-like environment seemed remote.

Image from Steve Bowers
Bagulho; one of the ringed gas giants in this system before it was converted into a dyson sphere
Repeated conflicts occurred in the 18 Sco system between the Spanish speaking and Lusophone populations on Ouro, and between the heavily cyborged Saamaka clade from the moons of Gigante and the space adapted humans of the third belt. On several occasions a number of colony ships were built to escape from the conflicts into the new territories outside the Inner Sphere; over time this sudamerican diaspora spread far out into the Orion Arm. One third generation colony (Budrosa) later was famously converted into a Dyson sphere by the Efficiency Maximisation Paradigm.

In the meantime the uninhabitable innermost terrestrial planet, Ardente, was gradually being disassembled into solar power collection structures; thin sheets of photovoltaic devices were balanced on light pressure above and below the plane of the local ecliptic, generating vast amounts of energy for industry and antimatter production.

On their first appearance the Efficiency Maximisation Paradigm used subterfuge to convert several planetary systems into dyson shells without the agreement of the local population, and were regarded as one of the greatest threats to sephirotic civilisation at that time. During the sixth millennium the Paradigm fought a bloody war with the NoCoNegs and mainstream Negentropists, finally being contained by the restrictive Jekaumeatrine Accords of 5559.

Since that time the virtual worlds of the Paradigm Dyson shells have become much less secretive, as the closed societies within the shells have opened up to outsiders and forged links with mainstream society (particularly Keterist and Cyberian interests).

Freedom of movement in and out of the virtual worlds was finally granted by the shadowy ruling Paradigm Council in 8601. The Maximisation Paradigm also had close ties with the Panvirtuality, becoming in some ways a halfway house between the Sephirotic worlds and that solipsist and largely a-human metaempire.

In particular the virtuals of Budrosa virtual heaven often chose embodiment in order to follow the colonisation trail, back through the daughter colonies to Felicidade where many of their ancestors originated (and sometimes all the way back to Ganymede or Luna in Solsys). Many of the citizens of Felicidade and Ouro took the opposite route during the Central Alliance period; the relative peace of the Middle Regions in that time encouraged the growth of tourism, and a growing number of Felicidadista were drawn to the dark shells of the Paradigm and the pleasant simulated worlds concealed within.

Still regulated by the Accords, the Paradigm was prevented from creating any more star shells in the heartland of the Orion Arm civilisation. Over time a number of red dwarf stars were encapsulated in the Outer Volumes by rogue optimisation swarms which may or may not have been associated directly with the Paradigm posthuman council; eventually these shell systems were surrounded by more conventional sephirotic colonies which viewed them with suspicion. As a gesture of goodwill the Paradigm council extended the restrictions of the Accords to these new encapsulated virtual worlds, allaying fears of a new expansion in the periphery.

Over time the nature of Terragen civilisation was changing; by the end of the Central alliance period the number of virtual citizens had increased to a very great extent. Despite their disreputable beginnings the virtual worlds of the Efficiency Maximisation Paradigm were no longer viewed with automatic distrust by many of these virtual members of the population. Freedom of movement allowed Paradigm evangelists and other, more ordinary virch citizens the opportunity to mix with the rest of Terragen society, and become accepted into mainstream society. Certainly the transapient Paradigm Council was secretive, but this was also true of many transapients throughout civilised space.

Felicidade in the meantime was still only partly habitable; the crust was successfully cooled by extensive use of heat superconductors, but the heat extracted had to be dumped via giant radiating structures extending above the atmosphere. Radical movements among the hi-grav Felicidade tweaks, enraged by population controls, repeatedly sabotaged these radiators, leading to rapid climate fluctuations. Partial medium-tech angelnetting suppressed the terrorist factions, but did not completely remove the political instability.

By 8287 the innermost terrestrial world was now almost completely disassembled; vast amounts of energy were being produced for Industry, computation, transport and storage. During this period the close contacts between Felicidade and Budrosa Dyson led to the emergence of a new dream, championed by one Celso Aiaia, a superbright imagineer from the surface city of Iponema; the uncomfortable world of Felicidade and the cold gas giants could be disassembled, and could be concerted into a Paradigm style virtual world. Aiaia was successful in arranging a state visit by an avatar of vPuthr emself (the highest toposophic entity of the Paradigm) to the 18 Scorpio system; a number of referenda throughout the system showed increasing enthusiasm for this encapsulation. As Felicidade was nominally a client world of the Negentropist Alliance it took delicate negotiations between Aiaia and the local judiciary (with vPuthr's inestimable assistance) to obtain clearance for the conversion.

Inside Sky of the Impossible Dyson
Image from Steve Bowers
The sky as seen from within the virtual world of the Impossible Dyson; the sky is covered in huge continents, millions of kilometers across, each of which contains countless oceans larger than the ones on Earth. Other smaller continents dot the seas between these megalands.
Most of these megalands are so far away they have not yet been colonised by the trillions of virtual inhabtants of this vast world.

After seven hundred years of work the dynamically supported shell was completed, with a radius of 0.936AU; this shell supports a vast network of processing nodes, and distributed among these nodes (but taking up no more than a few percent of the total computing power) is a simulation of a classical inverted Dyson Sphere in its entirety. The land surface of this virtual world apparently lines the inside of the shell; anybody inhabiting this simulation can look upwards and see the Sun-like star 18 Sco directly overhead, and look past the star to the land surface visible on the far surface of the shell, nearly 2 astronomical units away.

Celso Aiaia immediately dubbed this shell 'The Impossible Dyson', as such an inverted living surface would be impossible to construct in reality even using Sephirotic technology. Any person or structure existing on the inner surface of such a structure in real life would fall upwards into the sun. Although many shells have been constructed around planets and stars in Terragen space they always have the living surface on the outside, as in the suprastellar shell concept, or sandwiched between layers as at the Kiyoshi Dysons. The Impossible Dyson in contrast gives a sense of unbounded space, while displaying the whole gigantic surface of the simulated world in the sky at a glance.

The land surface of the Impossible Dyson has been generated by the Paradigm software using a fractal based program, modified to reflect the sort of geological processes which might be expected if such a phenomenally large world were possible in nature. More than four hundred major continents, the 'Megalands', averaging a million kilometres in length and breadth, have been created at random in an all pervading fresh-water ocean; these continents themselves are covered in landlocked seas of various sizes, and the vast ocean itself is dotted with tens of thousands of smaller continents, most of which are larger than any continent found on a planetary surface, but are too small to be seen with the baseline human eye from the other side of the sphere. It is said that each of the continents on the worlds of the Inner Sphere and much of the Middle Regions is reproduced at full scale in the midst of this ocean, but so far only a few have been found.

The central star is dimmed for several hours every day, as if in a thick cloud (mimicking the similar arrangement used by some ringworlds); but the simulated temperature of the sphere does not accurately follow realworld physics. If such a dyson existed in reality the shell would be uncomfortably warm inside, as all the heat energy of the star would be imprisoned within the sphere. The operating temperature of the Felicidade processor is considerably warmer than the simulated environment within.

One curious aspect of the Impossible Dyson which is often remarked upon by tour guides is the real light speed delays between locations inside the shell; each simulated entity is located within the processing substrate at a physical location (more or less) corresponding to its location in the virtual world, so that the communication delays between widely separated entities in the virtual world are real delays, not simulated ones. When a simulated entity travels a significant distance within the simulated environment, ver software also moves location within the processor shell to maintain its relative distance to other locations in the sphere.

Since the Impossible Dyson was completed in 9016 the population of these empty continents has increased very swiftly; not only by a very high virtual birth rate but also because virtual citizens of all sorts from far afield have applied to be incorporated into this massive simulation (leading to a very diverse population). Using very fast colonisation aircraft and magtrains running within the sphere shell (all simulations, of course) have spread the population out among the continents until most are now inhabited; the population of this sphere in 10400 was twenty-two trillion, but even this vast number of inhabitants represents a population density of approximately one person per ten thousand square kilometres. The vast oceans hold hundreds of millions of virtual ships, but they rarely encounter each other.

Any visitor to this simulation will be seamlessly incorporated into the illusion; this is most easily achieved if the visitor is already a virch citizen, but even embodied citizens can be integrated into this apparent world using direct neural interfacing and/or utility fog. The exact details are kept secret by the Paradigm, but the transition between reality and virtuality here, and on the other Maximisation worlds, is practically seamless.

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Development Notes
Text by Steve Bowers

Initially published on 04 March 2006.