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In Larry Niven's Ringworld, it seems he nerfs the vastness of his construction by making all but a very few of the inhabitants primitives (due to lack of access to metals and minerals with which to work.) The protagonists (IMO, though it's been a long time since reading the series) meet a few civilizations, and the assumption is that though there are billions of them, they're all more or less the same because there's only so much you can do with no technology. Then there are the Pak protectors in charge of the ring. (Perhaps the best innovation is that the ring makes sense in the context of their psychology - not many pull off a good reason for a megastructure like that.)

Paul Lucas wrote a post-dyson-sphere apocalyptic civilization book called "Shattered Sky": The builders are long gone so the viewpoint is confined to civilizations on a technology level we can deal with.

It always seems like these sorts of settings end up trying to avoid, one way or another, the actual building-civilization of the structure. (I suppose then you'd have to be less vague about what "godlike AIs" get up to, and that can get cringey if they're Heinleins evaluation of our ideas of gods with "the manners and morals of a spoiled child".)


One other thing about the "hard-sci-fi" straightjacket that tries to "discredit" the tropes of space opera: If you're genetically uplifting animals and building AIs, you've probably got beings with a long lifespan. If you can build space-habitats, you can build laser-lightsail craft, and it should be no trouble at all to travel between star systems at high STL speeds. (Robert Forward describes a straightforward way to decelerate a lightsail craft at the destination star with just the sending beam.)

A dyson civilization may develop over millenia, but I would think people spreading over interstellar space would also be going on: Less conflict over resources. Eventually, matter to build habitats would get scarce in the home system as it gets filled up: You can't go digging for more iron if your hull is filled up. Maybe you can do some sort of starlifting trick to pull matter from the sun, but that's likely to be 99.999% hydrogen.

I dunno: I think the hard-SF "discrediting" of space opera is like the technical difficulties with Jules Verne's cannon (if we're that generous! Of Daedalus's was wings!) "discrediting" the possibility of interplanetary spaceflight.


typos!: (can't go digging for more iron if you've already disassembled all the major rocky objects)
(Daedalus's wax wings)

Anyway, write it. I'll buy it.

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