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In “The Seventh Sally,” a story by the great Polish science-fiction writer Stanislaw Lem, a god-like “constructor” named Trurl comes upon a former tyrant named Excelsius, now exiled to a lonely asteroid by the peoples of the planets he used to terrorize.
So, he instead fashions an intricate simulacrum of a kingdom for Excelsius to rule over.
And all of this, connected, mounted, and ground to precision, fit into a box, and not a very large box, but just the size that could be carried about with ease.
This Trurl presented to Excelsius, to rule and have dominion over forever; but first he showed him where the input and output of his brand-new kingdom were, and how to program wars, quell rebellions, exact tribute, collect taxes, and also instructed him in the critical points and transition states of that microminiaturized society — in other words the maxima and minima of palace coups and revolutions — and explained everything so well that the king, an old hand in the running of tyrannies, instantly grasped the directions and, without hesitation, while the constructor watched, issued a few trial proclamations, correctly manipulating the control knobs, which were carved with imperial eagles and regal lions.
These proclamations declared a state of emergency, martial law, a curfew, and a special levy.
After a year had passed in the kingdom, which amounted to hardly a minute for Trurl and the king, by an act of the greatest magnanimity — that is, by a flick of the finger at the controls — the king abolished one death penalty, lightened the levy, and deigned to annul the state of emergency, whereupon a tumultuous cry of gratitude, like the squeaking of tiny mice lifted by their tails, rose up from the box, and through its curved glass cover one could see, on the dusty highways and along the banks of lazy rivers that reflected the fluffy clouds, the people rejoicing and praising the great and unsurpassed benevolence of their sovereign lord.
The first of the great god-game constructors, the one whose name would always be most associated with the genre, was a hyperactive chain-smoking, chain-talking Southerner named Will Wright.
This is the story of him and his first living world — or, actually, living city — in a box.
, constructing primitive robots out of Lego bricks, model kits, and the contents of his local Radio Shack’s wall of hobbyist doodads.
In 1980, the 20-year-old Wright and his partner Rick Doherty won the U. Express, an illegal coast-to-coast automobile race created by the organizer of the earlier Cannonball Run.
And so, though at first he had felt insulted by Trurl’s gift, in that the kingdom was too small and very like a child’s toy, the monarch saw that the thick glass lid made everything inside seem large; perhaps too he dully understood that size was not what mattered here, for government is not measured in meters and kilograms, and emotions are somehow the same, whether experienced by giants or dwarfs — and so he thanked the constructor, if somewhat stiffly.
Who knows, he might even have liked to order him thrown in chains and tortured to death, just to be safe — that would have been a sure way of nipping in the bud any gossip about how some common vagabond tinkerer presented a mighty monarch with a kingdom.
Excelsius was sensible enough, however, to see that this was out of the question, owing to a very fundamental disproportion, for fleas could sooner take their host into captivity than the king’s army seize Trurl.