I finished reading Lucifer’s Hammer (review forthcoming soon) and the last part of the book is by far the most intriguing. The main issue is the initial struggles of the survivors and the attempt to rebuild society. There is basically a war between two ideals — one which favors technology and the one that wants to see technology destroyed. The first is of course led by the reasonable people and the second by religious environmentalist types. In the end, the technologists win out, but even they have a final struggle within themselves as to whether to save electrical power from a nuclear plant. In the end they go for it all and win out.
That is not to say that other societal ideas are not present in the book.
1) Wanderers: guys who just try to survive on their own with just their wits to guide them.
2) Tribal society: mountain men types who band with other mountain men types to create basic survival societies.
3) Farming communities – peasants who simply try to get a small standard of living from the earth.
These are all presented. I find this part of the aftermath of any worldwide disaster, plague, war, etc. scenario the most interesting part of these stories. What vision of the future is there when people go through a time of just getting to the next day is the goal. Now what do you do that the peace is won and survival more assured? I believe there are two main issues: what government would such a society have and what is the minimum technological level that would survive?
I like the idea of a group of people dedicated to preserving technology but what government would they have? Like it or not democracies act very slowly and do not respond to crisis as well as other forms. I would lay odds on some form of feudal dictatorship somewhere. I would also say that oligarchies, rule by a group of people, are possible. I hate to say it, but democracy would not make it at least not at first. In crisis the real leaders rise to the surface and take over out of necessity. The book did a great job with this truth.
The technology question is a little more complicated. As much as I got the concern that electrical power be preserved by saving the nuke plant from the book, I also have to say that electrical power would survive in some form on planet earth. Too many people know how electricity is generated and how to get it to work for them. The question to me is degree. Medicine is a different story. I don’t think people realize how fragile this part of modern technology is. The real kicker with medical technology is you need people with medical knowledge. So you have an MRI machine, useless if someone does not know how to run it. Ditto for laboratory gear. Truth is the internet and smart phones might simply become useless. Computers might survive, but eventually without replacement parts, they too will fail eventually. I really can see us being looked at in a couple of generations as some form of ancients whose knowledge is shrouded in mystery.
Knowledge is my chief concern and it is based on how it is stored. Digital knowledge is fragile in its many forms. If the internet fails that knowledge is lost. Everything on optical or magnetic disk can be corrupted or destroyed. I would also point out if there is no way to read an optical disc because all the readers are lost or the knowledge of how to use them is lost, that knowledge is useless. In some ways good old-fashioned paper books have better durability and accessibility. Knowledge, must be recorded and copied over time and copied again and again to be preserved. If people lose the ability to do this, this will cause society to go backwards. The book did not really dwell on this because at the time it was written books and microfilm were the modes of storage. For us, this is critical.
What do I see as the typical community? A baron guiding a small town to small city in size with may be a town council to handle the day-to-day stuff. The town has some means of generating electrical power and to be honest, I think the size of the community will be based on how much it can generate. The place might have a clinic, food storage and library. The library might have a computer to access digital information but from discs not the internet. All of these things are more fragile and as such need to be maintained and defended with utmost care. Everyone is armed in some way as everyone may be needed to defend the community from attack. I can see the tech level being somewhat like the 1950s, but with some stuff a little further than that. Transportation would depend on a lot of factors. most notably fuel. Ultimately the societies that survive the best and generate the most advantages will absorb the others.
The question remains about survival of the human race. One of the book’s main points is that we need to spread out to other worlds so the whole race cannot be wiped out in one disaster. Heinlein’s all our eggs in one basket quote is used a couple of times in the book. This is the real science fiction part of the book, the desire to get across to others this painful truth that we can be wiped out and we need to do something to make sure that does not happen.