Speculations on Pak Protectors

Reading Larry Niven’s Ringworld’s Children recently sparked a thought or three.

What if Tree-of-Life virus was a bioweapons project that went horribly wrong? As much as the Protector concept thrills me, the relationship between the Pak and Tree-of-Life has always struck me as unlikely and unnatural. Yes, evolution works in strange ways, and the first Protectors could have been born of an accident as a tribe of Pak wandered into new feeding grounds, but I have to wonder if there might not have been an intelligence at work for the process to come about.

The Pak may not have come from Pakhome–they could, in fact, have been genengineered Terran lifeforms, which were modified to be cannon fodder for some conflict. (That would be a staggering coincidence, for the Pak to have originated on Earth and then find their way back, but just for sake of argument.)

Protector-stage Pak, because of their murderous tendencies toward mutated Pak, would have stopped evolution Pak cold, so the gene line would have remained stable for millions of years despite Darwin’s best efforts. At that span of time, the origins of the Pak would have become lost, assuming that the first Protectors even knew them.

At the other end, once the Pak colony collapsed and the Pak-breeders were left to fend for themselves as their Protectors died off, there could have been some genetic swapping between the breeders and the native fauna. In some cases, such as chimpanzees, the Pak may have brought their genetic forebears from Pakhome–perhaps the chimp played a role in Pakhome society (such as it was) in the way that the Watchmakers had a role in Motie society, and the Protectors brought them along even though they weren’t necessary.

I’m not suggesting that the tnuctip created the Protectors–though of the races we know, they would be the ones with the best bet on doing so–because there are a number of logic problems with a tnuctip origin:

  1. Time scale. Two billion years is a long time. Even with a Protector’s instinctual genocidal urge against mutations in the gene line, would the pak breeders remain genetically stable across that span of time?
  2. If the tnuctip engineered the Protector brain to be immune to the POWER, would the brain also have been immune to the Primal Scream? If so, why? If not, assuming Pak breeders were immune to the Primal Scream because breeders were non-sentient and the Protectors were killed off by the Scream, in a few generations when the breeders began eating the Tree-of-Life root and changing into Protector stage, what would have prevented the Protectors from taking over a galaxy with no intelligences in it save themselves and the infrastructure of a galactic civilization still largely intact? Eventually the Protectors would ruin things, and in a fairly spectacular manner, but until then they’d have the run of the playground.
  3. The Primal Scream notwithstanding, I have a hard time picturing the tnuctip making a mistake on the scale of Protector super-intelligence.

No, what if the Pak origin were something of more recent vintage–perhaps fifty million years in the past at most, involving races we’ve not seen and/or long forgotten? Genengineered shock troops may have seemed like a good idea in the context of a long, drawn-out war, but if something went wrong then what may have been seen as the solution turned into an even greater threat.

Published by Allyn

A writer, editor, journalist, sometimes coder, occasional historian, and all-around scholar, Allyn Gibson is the writer for Diamond Comic Distributors' monthly PREVIEWS catalog, used by comic book shops and throughout the comics industry, and the editor for its monthly order forms. In his over ten years in the industry, Allyn has interviewed comics creators and pop culture celebrities, covered conventions, analyzed industry revenue trends, and written copy for comics, toys, and other pop culture merchandise. Allyn is also known for his short fiction (including the Star Trek story "Make-Believe,"the Doctor Who short story "The Spindle of Necessity," and the ReDeus story "The Ginger Kid"). Allyn has been blogging regularly with WordPress since 2004.

4 thoughts on “Speculations on Pak Protectors

  1. Brilliant!

    No one understands that Larry was making up as he went along, but he says so in the little blurbs in his anthologies. Lots of stuff is just on the edge of being in the Known Space universe, but doesn’t quite fit.

    If you read the “Worlds” mini-series, you’ll see Lerner trying to make the puzzle pieces fit. Larry’s humor is nearly absent in all 3 books. It’s his ideas, but his heart isn’t in it.

  2. My problem with the Protectors is the superhuman knowledge they gain as a result of their “transformation.” Crainial capacity is one thing, but knowledge does not form on its own. Seeing as how protectors are blind to any cause other than the preservation of their own bloodlines, it’s unlikely they would master space travel.

    Space travel is a long-range benefit, requiring years (centuries, even) of theoretical development. How could a species like the Protectors work towards such an end when they are faced with the more immediate task of the survival of their bloodlines? Remember Maslow’s hierarchy.

  3. Maxmanta: Humanity has had agriculture for 10000 years, and we’ve already begun space travel. The Pak records go back at least 3 million years, and by the time of the events of Ringworld, they still haven’t mastered faster than light travel.

    I’d say Niven’s written them as having difficulty mastering space travel.

    And Niven also describes, after tree-of-life virus has transformed the breeder into a protector, where the newly formed protector spends a day or two acclimating to, coming to terms with, and figuring out his new surroundings. Bearing in mind a recently awakened protector would normally be surrounded by his family who would ease the transition. Protectors don’t get superhuman knowledge as a result of their transformation, but they acquire it with relatively blinding speed soon thereafter.

  4. It is pretty obvious that Pak Protectors are like intellectuals. They have abilities greater than that of the ordinary breeder, and they use those abilities to benefit their own race. Stand back and take a look at modern politics. The more intellectuals a.k.a. Pak Protectors a race has, the better that race fares in world politics and presumably the greater the fitness of that race in the long term. Dumber races have inferior protectors, and they lose out in propaganda wars. The whole race suffers.

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