In Fire Upon the Deep, the Vrinmini Organization recovers Pham Nuwen from, what the head of the Org (Grondir? Grondor? I don't know how to spell his name...) describes as a Slow Zone Dredge. Ravana, I believe, goes on to state that the races that send dredges (or other ships) down into the Slowness are a bit weird. I don't have my copy of the book on me, so I can't bring up direct quotes. Sorry about that.

Now, my question is; what's the point of even sending down a ship into the slowness, if the people who sent it will never see the fruits of their labor, or see the ship return? I mean, even weird people do things with purpose at times, right? What would any civilization or group of people in the Beyond gain from anything in the Slowness?

3 Answers 3


Why do archaeologists dig for relics of past civilization? Why do paleontologists dig for fossilized remains of extinct animals?

There is potentially quite a bit of interesting information that could be gleaned by civilizations that developed under the more severe circumstances of the Slow Zone. Some of it could even be useful.

Other pieces of salvage or information retrieved might of value, as collectors might be willing to buy them as rare artifacts.

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    Well, that makes sense, but the problem is, for the people who sent the dredge out, that they will never gain anything from it, considering it takes so bloody long for the ship to go through the slowness. They're pretty much wasting funds on a project that wont help them. Aren't they? Mar 18, 2014 at 19:42
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    Some races live longer than others, and while I doubt any live long enough to send a dredge out and see it return, some cultures might see it as an investment in future generations. Others might be doing it more out of "humanitarian" (or whatever word applies to a multitude of alien species) reasons. Either of these would certainly justify calling it a bit "weird", though.
    – Beofett
    Mar 18, 2014 at 19:48
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    Perhaps it's a way of "paying it forward"? Reap the benefits of a dredge sent out by your ancestors, launch another one to benefit your descendants? Sort of like planting a new redwood tree after cutting down an old one. Mar 18, 2014 at 19:53
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    @ThatFurryWriterGuy: Investing in things that only future generations will benefit from is not that uncommon even today, and certainly not seen as a waste. Mar 19, 2014 at 9:21

What Dan Pichelman said in his comment. Like you, I don't have the book handy, but it is noted that many species like to send out dredges in order to learn about the Zones. The more one learns about the Zones, the more potential for both protection and profit there is.

Even many Powers take an interest in the Slow Zone, and even moreso the Unthinking Depths - Old One is a prime example of this - and races that live near the border of the Zones would have much to gain from knowledge of it, even if that knowledge is limited to mapping. If the Unthinking Depths have an effect on the Slowness and the Beyond - which they probably do - then research conducted in that region could also allow great technological benefits.

Just because a person is not capable of living long enough to see the fruits of one's research does not mean they should not try to make things better for their descendants. That was Pham Nuwen's goal in creating the Qeng Ho Empire in the prequel novel after all; not to mention his goal in using Counter-Measure against the Blight. Benefits to one's descendants are still benefits.


Two parts to your question: why send a dredge; and, why send it when it takes so long.

  1. The book says to map zone boundaries (not quoting). james-sheridan mentions some others.

  2. Examples of people investing for a return after their death: corporate planning (nb: it is reflected in their stock price, today); religions (the catholic church surely take a long-term view with respect to their real estate); government (national parks were created for future generations, and was reflected in votes for candidates, at that time; there's also water resource planning, channel dredging, metropolitan zoning (heh) expansion planning, electricity sourcing); and of course for one's descendants (e.g. trust funds).

I guess dredges are closest to mapping/survey/exploration expeditions. While those in the past few centuries only took years, not life-times, in a sense, they did take a life-time: the people authorizing/funding voyage (king, queen, government official) really might not be alive upon return... and for an official, might not still have that job - especially for an elected official.

A relevant example is JFK, who never saw the moon landings.

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    Presumably JFK expected to see the moon landings. Jul 13, 2016 at 22:29

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