Escape Pod 839: Universal Archive of Human History: FAQ

Universal Archive of Human History: FAQ

By Arturo Sierra

The Gran Gliese Universal Archive of Human History contains over 5.7×1035 books and an innumerable collection of shorter works. Moreover, it is continuously growing, thanks to additions from spacefaring traders such as the ones who ferried you here. We buy all works of the human mind that the interstellar pilgrims bring to Gran Gliese, often from the furthest reaches of the Sphere of Settled Space. The oldest files are as ancient as writing, meaning we store over a gigayear of human culture in our vaults.

The extent of our collection overwhelms visitors, with good reason. This document has been prepared to assuage some of your probable concerns. So, let’s get to your questions!

When will I be allowed to start my research? I can’t wait to roam the library!

Before you come anywhere near our documents, you’ll be required to complete an eight-local-year training-course. You’ll learn to navigate our multilevel indexing system, as well as the proper manner in which to conduct your research. Your previous experience with the “pretty huge” library at your homeworld does not qualify you to handle our collection. Maybe you still haven’t grasped the immensity of our vaults.

Be advised, the training program also serves as selection process. In general, we trust the judgement of the spacefarers who dropped you at our doorstep, since they usually do a good job of choosing competent scholars. However, the occasional witless dunce has been found in the mix, as well as creeps who try to buy their way in. But don’t be alarmed: even if you fail here, most schools servicing Gran Gliese’s lay population will be happy to grant tenure to any of our rejected prospects. And you can always find passage back to your homeworld—Gran Gliese is the most active interstellar hub in the Sphere, so there’s bound to be someone who can take you, if you can afford it.

But I’m in a hurry! Is there no way to get fast-tracked?

Assuming your homeworld is at an average distance from Gran Gliese, and assuming the ship you took made an average velocity of 0.2 c, then you’re already a kiloyear late for whatever had you so excited. One more decayear won’t make a difference.

Is the GGUAHH really the sum of all true knowledge?

Yes. Our Science Library contains every bit of physics there is. In case you are somehow unaware of it—maybe your world is more of a backwater than you realize—it has long been undisputed that the knowable laws of physics have already been discovered. This has been understood since before leaving the Cradle, since before the first Interstellar Flight. It’s called the Ling-Hollenbach Principle of Surface Detail, and it’s well-established fact. A gigayear of failed attempts to find new physics is enough to convince us not to listen to your brilliant insight as to how all previous researchers failed to consider something vital.

Therefore, you’ll find our section on exact sciences is one of the smallest in the Archive. There’s nothing to add to it; don’t waste your time, and definitely don’t waste your colleagues’ time. Remember, we’re not in the business of discovery; only the history of science interests us.

Biology is another matter, of course, since there’s no limit to the adaptations life can take. We don’t keep many gene sequences archived, except of species from the Cradle and alien life-forms. Most genes are proprietary, in any case, and the cost of buying them exceeds our acquisitions budget. Nonetheless, accounts by naturalists are constantly being added to our vaults.

As for other areas of human investigation, such as history, sociology, musicology, literature, philosophy, cooking, adynatics, and innumerable others, you’ll be taught to avoid using words such as knowledge and true when speaking in those contexts. This is not because they are thought of as lesser—indeed, most of the work conducted here is in those areas—but because the epistemological framework we use at the Archive takes “known” to mean “certain,” and uses the word “true” interchangeably with “empirically-proven.”

In what language are the documents? I’m only fluent in my native tongue.

Most of GGUAHH is in Solariisa, the language of spacefarers. If not, it’s only because nobody has gotten around to translating that particular text. You’ll be required to read, write, and speak Solariisa perfectly before you can start your research. It’s the only thing that comes close to a lingua franca for all of disparate humankind, and you should be ashamed to call yourself a scholar if you haven’t mastered it.

What units do you use?

We also use standard Solariisan units. That is, meter, gram, joule, and second, as inherited from the Cradle. Other frequently used time-units are the minute, hour, day, and year. These might be as arbitrary as your provincial miles and pounds, but they are well defined and used by spacefarers across the Sphere. Counting is done in decimal.

However, when speaking about non-scholarly matters, local Gliesan units are employed. If a fellow researcher wants to meet you at the pub in an hour, think local.

I came here to write the Complete History of Humankind. Bow before me!

We strongly advise against such projects. “Complete” is the most frequent cause for insanity amongst researchers.

Wait, you actually keep physical books? Seems primitive!

Bitter experience has taught us that digital can’t be trusted. The best drive has an average lifespan of three hectoyears, and guess what, that’s just long enough for people to forget they had to migrate the files before dumping old storage units. Moreover, even if our software has remained mostly unchanged for many kiloyears, old code still becomes unreadable if it’s not kept up to date. And spontaneous corruption happens all the time. So, yes, we print every document that passes through our hands.

But don’t scoff at our printing press! The paper used is inflammable, doesn’t get wet, and you have to hit the gym pretty hard if you want to tear a page in half. Closed books aren’t susceptible to damage from sunlight. The system is not perfect, though, and books do need to be replaced every so often.

On the other hand, we try to keep some things digitized, for ease of use. If what you’re looking for is not in our cloud, we have machines that can unbind, scan, upload, and rebind a book in less than five minutes! Drones can retrieve anything you want from the vaults; all you have to do is make the request. But, when you get a chance, we recommend you take a tour down the corridors of the library: the sheer weight of the words is truly awe-inspiring. Remember to pack some water bottles and protein bars! And a map!

Other kinds of files are a bit trickier. Audio we keep in something called a “disk,” which records sound in analogue format, resisting the passage of time much better than any other method. One such disk contains five exobits of data. Video is kept in image-tapes, but these are bulky and don’t keep particularly well, so video files are generally eschewed by the Archive. Things that need to be digital we try to maintain safe and updated. Part of the precautions we take is limiting access to such files, so your requests to read them will have to be approved (they almost always are).

Is it true about the ESIs? Where do you keep the aliens?

Calm down. In all of the Sphere, only four instances of extra-solar intelligence have been found, and no one is really sure if they are intelligent in the same way humans are. The so-called Sculptors of Corot-7 don’t even count, as all we have of them is the collection of monumental faces, carved into the mountains of the planet a terayear before humankind took to the stars, and left behind without another trace of their presence. A spacefaring civilization, yes, but defying all understanding. As for the ruins on 55 Cancri, precious little can be learned from what remains. Finally, the mantis-lemurs of Ulan and the nonapods of Green Kepler are generally considered to be very smart animals, not true ESIs, since they have not developed technology. But we have a million volumes and more on each of these, so you’ll be able to read all about them until, as seems inevitable, you get bored.

What’s your health plan?

Athanasy will be provided free of charge for as long as you stay with us. If and when you decide to leave, you’ll look as young or as old as you think is fashionable.

What’s the work and the play like?

A week at the Archive is eight local days long. You’ll be required to spend three days doing community work, mostly cataloguing, abstracting, translating, and giving lectures to your fellow scholars. Two days are reserved for your own research and two days are free for you to spend as you like. Every ten weeks, you get one week off, which most of our staff use to go on a bender around town. The city offers endless possibilities for partying. If that’s not your thing, Gran Gliese has been in continuous terraformation almost since the beginning of human expansion; you won’t find better nature anywhere in the Sphere.

Am I free to research anything I want?

During your first hectoyear with us, your research subjects will have to be approved by a Doctor. After that, pretty much, yes. There’s no forbidden knowledge at the Archive, though redundant research is frowned upon. Whether your work will become part of the Archive is another question altogether.

I saw a disgusting, degenerate, irreligious, mutant flibflob lurking the corridors. How can you allow such a deviant inside this Hallowed Temple?

Our scholars come from a thousand different worlds, from a million different cultures. We would appreciate it if you could keep your cultural mores to yourself. You can always sit at a different table in the cafeteria, and you can choose a different collaborator to write that paper with. Hazing, including but not limited to broken skulls, has been known to happen with newcomers that were too vocal about their phobias. On the other hand, the Archive has a Code of Conduct, so don’t expect cultural relativism to go as far as to allow every conceivable act. If you are found in breach of said Code, the Ethics Committee can and will expel you.

I’m still feeling overwhelmed by the vastness of the Archive. How can anyone find what they are looking for?

You’ll learn to trust our indexing methods. But you also need to manage your expectations. It takes a lot of work to find the right references (really, we can’t underscore this point hard enough). Even if you’re writing about a very particular sort of embroidering technique used by nomads on the moons of some place nobody has heard about, chances are there’s a treatise about it, written long before your time. Generally speaking, the older your sources, the worse it gets. The Archive has no fewer than two hundred distinct versions of the works of Plato, a Cradle-born philosopher, and there’s no way of telling which is the original, if any. There are also two thousand copies that have been proven to be apocryphal. Each of these has sprouted a million glosses and commentaries, and much of this is as interesting as the source text. You will get lost in the endless paths of human investigation, and that’s really the only way to come across the interesting stuff, but you need to stay on some path.

Can I really add anything meaningful to such a collection?

The short answer is no. But a better one is this: we hope you can answer that yourself, in the ripeness of time.

How’s the food around here?

Firstday is mincemeat day. You’re here for the 5.7×1035 books, not the haute cuisine.

About the Author

Arturo Sierra

Arturo Sierra lives in Santiago, Chile, with cat. So far has lived a very uninteresting existence and, with any luck, it will remain that way.

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About the Narrator

Roberto Suarez

narrator Roberto Suarez

Roberto Suarez lives in Portland, Oregon. By day he works as a community college student advocate and recruiter. By night he geeks out on all things fantasy and science fiction, comic books and board games. He produces and co-hosts “A Pod of Casts: The Game of Thrones Podcast” ( ) and is a proud monthly supporter of all “Escape Artists” productions. Roberto is a father of four younglings being raised in The Ways of The Force and is married to Barbara, his Sun and Stars.

Find more by Roberto Suarez

narrator Roberto Suarez