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Progressors in science fiction are people of an advanced space-faring civilization who facilitate progress of less advanced civilizations. It comes from a perspective very much the opposite of what motivates Star Trek's famous Prime Directive.
The term progressor was coined by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky for their Noon Universe (1961-1985), the term was mentioned in Hard to Be a God (1964), and later it (as well as a similar term regressor) was also used by Sergey Lukyanenko in the duology The Stars Are Cold Toys (1997), although with a somewhat different meaning. Doris Lessing explores the same themes in her Canopus in Argos series (1979-1983), but she calls it forced evolution. A similar concept is the basis of Iain M. Banks' Culture series (1987-2012); the organization carrying out the work is named Special Circumstances. David Brin's Uplift Universe novels (1980-1998) focus on the closely related phenomenon of biological uplift.
Noon Universe Progressors
Strugatsky's progressors are agents of the Institute of Experimental History (IEH), in some cases indirectly controlled by two Committees for Contacts with Other Civilizations (COMCONs). They are working only with human civilizations, apparently, not daring to "progress" non-human races, like Leoniders or Headies, with whom Earth prefers to keep a full scaled diplomatic contact. Aware of a possible xenophobia, progressors usually employ stealth and secrecy to work undercover, allowing only a few of the brightest and most trustworthy individuals on a planet to know their true background.
The idea of progressorism is to "straighten the history", i.e. to facilitate the way of primitive civilizations to Noon Universe-like condition and is based on the fictional theory of Historical Consequences, which determines "what is good or bad, right or not in history". Progressors diminish casualties, inflicted by historical processes or inevitable crises. However, they don't hesitate to kill in order to survive (or to achieve other goals). This contradicts the usual mindset of the Noon Universe, according to which every "bearer of reason" is a priori ethically equivalent to oneself. It's why most humans don't like progressors.
In Hard to Be a God, collaborators of the Institute (such as don Rumata) are merely observers/historians gathering material for the theory of Historical Consequences, and saving scientists and poets is their personal activity. True progressors appear not earlier than in Inhabited Island and Beetle in an Anthill.
Wanderers seem to "progress" some civilizations (including Earth), too, being ahead of humans in every aspect, from secrecy to efficiency. However, Leonid Gorbovsky thinks of this possibility as a ridiculous one:
- In the whole universe only our humankind practices progressorism, because our history is like that, because we weep over our past... We can't change it and we strive at least to help others, since we didn't manage to help ourselves in time... That's where our Progressorism comes from! And the Wanderers, even if their past did resemble ours, are so far from it now that they don't even remember it.
Progressor Projects in the 22nd Century
The middle of the 22nd century was a boom for IEH and progressors. Here are some of their most famous projects.
- Saula Project. Never actually described in any book, this project was presumably initiated in 2141 AD, right after the discovery of Saula and the reactivation of IEH.
- Arkanar Project. Despite the fact that Arkanar was discovered back in 2134, a full scaled progressor operation was started only in 2141. Because at that point the planet already entered the Renaissance stage, progressors' actions generally consisted of protecting and rescuing (if necessary) scientists and artists persecuted by reactionary governments. Apart from that, Arkanar was the planet where the Basic Theory of Feudalism was tested and polished. The Arkanar Project has been known for causing severe psychological traumas to IEH agents working on it. Most infamous incident on Arkanar is known as "Arkanar Massacre". (The concept of Arkanar massacre was invented not by Strugatsky's, but by another author, Sergey Pereslegin, who continued their story.)
- Giganda Project. Like Arkanar, Giganda was discovered (in 2136) long before an official progressor operation on it was launched (in 2143). By the 2153 AD progressors managed to stop the war, which was started, probably, long before Earth's explorers even landed on the planet. Korney Yashmaa, one of the "Stepchildren" participated in Giganda Project in 2177.
- Saraksh Project. After its discovery in 2148, Saraksh immediately became subject to a progressor project which four years later was personally headed by the chief of COMCON-2, Rudolf Sikorski. For nine years progressors tried to ease the tension between rivaling states on the planet, but their efforts were ruined by unknowing Maxim Kammerer in 2157. The "Kammerer Crisis" was another serious failure of IEH.
- "Headies in the Space". A Saraksh sub-project, it was initiated after a full scaled diplomatic contact with Headies was established. A group of progressors led by Lev Abalkin (a Headies-expert and one of the "Stepchildren") shared the space-travelling technologies with the kynoid race and helped them to establish a permanent embassy on Earth. The project commenced in the skies over Pandora.
- Ark Project. Initiated in 2161, right after the discovery of Pant, this operation was intended to transport all Pantians to another planet which would not be in danger of a stellar catastrophe. The initial choice was Ark, but after the discovery of a sentient alien race on it progressors had to find another target planet. At this point the project got a second goal: to establish a contact with Ark Megaforms. It isn't stated anywhere in the books how (and if) the Ark Project was ever completed.
- Operation "Dead World". The goal of this operation (initiated in 2162) was to rescue the remnant population of Hope from their homeworld which was devastated by a global ecological catastrophe. However, the people of Hope fiercely rejected any help from progressors, apparently, believing them to be Wanderers' agents. Lev Abalkin and his Headie companion, Schyokn-Itrch, participated in this operation in 2162.
After 2162 the public opinion has, apparently, forced Institute of Experimental History to stop initiating new projects.
Unlike Strugatky's progressors who were selfless knights of altruism and science, Lukyanenko's ones are mere an instrument of power employed by the government of one of the most technologically advanced civilizations in the universe described in The Stars Are Cold Toys and Star Shadow. This civilization (called Geometers (Геометры), because of their love for order: e.g. they even reshaped the two continents of their home planet to resemble a circle and a square) bears a striking resemblance to the Earth of Noon Universe. In both, upbringing of a person is fulfilled by teachers not parents. But while Teachers of the Noon Universe help to develop the brightest sides of a personality and to form morally brought up person, Mentors of Geometers tend to meet the needs of society — forming good mannered people, unable to violate any rules of the society at all. The author himself commented that he wasn't really sure that a system described by Strugatsky brothers could function properly and presented his own vision of it.
Geometers were obsessed with an idea of building an interstellar brotherhood of all kinds of races (in other words, a form of imperialism — a doctrine not common in Noon Universe). But while it's impossible to change the ideology of an advanced society by force, Geometers use regressors to exterminate technology of the planet to the level, at which inhabitants will easily accept ideas of Friendship. This is where progressors came in: they raise the technological and social level, while bringing up races in the "true" way.