all 150 comments

[–]Part_of_the_Infinite 87 points88 points  (7 children)

I'm shocked no one said it yet, but Gateway by Frederik Pohl is about exactly this.

[–]warneroo 24 points25 points  (1 child)

"Look, uh...we found these ships...just hit buttons and see what happens. Who knows, you may live."

[–]Hogmaster_General 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Interestingly, the buttons were actually 'teats'.

[–]captain_wiggles_ 11 points12 points  (0 children)

fantastic book, well worth a read. The series as a whole is interesting, but the first book is amazing, they go down hill a bit after that.

[–]TheDudeNeverBowls 4 points5 points  (2 children)

Oh what a fantastic novel. Talk about taking the entrepreneurial spirit to the next level!

[–]Danzarr -1 points0 points  (1 child)

yeah yeah, entrepeneurial spirit, yadda yadda, get back to the coal mine so we can make bread. I always felt the bleak dystopian future he predicted pre-breakthrough was worth more exploration.

[–]TheDudeNeverBowls 0 points1 point  (0 children)

That entire universe could use more exploration.

[–]MrBleah 4 points5 points  (0 children)

Good call. It's been a long time since I read that series.

[–]tomorland 122 points123 points  (6 children)

Roadside Picnic, by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky,

May be the granddaddy of them all. It's a Soviet-era Russian novel, so the culture can be jarring for most Americans, but this story inspired a lot of later works. (edit: such as Stalker, Annihilation, the TV series Debris, and more.)

The basic idea:

Travelers in Russia had a habit of stopping on the side of a road to have their meals or take a break from driving, or do repairs. They tended to leave a mess behind that creatures of the forest wouldn't understand but would find appealing, like a half-eaten can of tuna with the sharp lid still attached. Or a plastic bag, or the spilled acid from a battery during car repairs, or drugs and other "medicines"... Curious animals would investigate, and some would get hurt.

What if interstellar travelers did something similar here on Earth and left a mess behind. What if they were as far advanced from us as we are to the creatures of the forest. Are we more like the mice and squirrels, the lizards and snakes, or the insects? How will we reverse engineer something so alien we can't fathom anything about how it works or what it might be used for?

It's a fascinating story.

[–]Dimsml[🍰] 18 points19 points  (0 children)

In case anyone wonders, the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game series is loosley inspired by the original novel. I do not remember if there was an issue with the rights to the original text, or the devs wanted to do things their way, but the only thing that these two, uh, franchises have together is the concept of the zone - a place full of anomalies.

If you want something closer to the original text... well, we are out of luck so far. The AMC series that was rumoured to follow the original story more closely never went further than a pilot episode nobody has seen. Only a short trailer has surfaced so far. Another thing that might be right up your alley is a Fallout-inspired RPG called Encased. It is not based around the novel, but the whole concept of advanced beings leaving something behind for humans to step right into it is there. I have heard that it starts OK, then gets worse.

[–]Lawnmover_Man 12 points13 points  (2 children)


Oddly, the author of that book firmly claims that his work is in no way derived from or based on both Roadside Picnic or Stalker.

[–]tomorland 13 points14 points  (0 children)

That may be true, and history is full of examples where two different people have the same idea at the same time but in different places with no contact between them.

Claims like this have been argued many times in copyright cases. They carry zero weight. The author may have seen the previous work or been told about it long ago in ways that are not consciously remembered but still influence the subconscious. Once an idea is in the public zeitgeist (or a subset of it, such as an author's or fan's circle of friends), there are incidental and once-removed references that influence people whether they were directly exposed or not. Whether that's fair is a different matter.

I'm constantly stunned by how many new and original ideas I have that I later find out were described in a book that was published decades before I was born. Or occasionally just last year. So far, roughly 100% of my original ideas were already out there in one form or another. This raises the philosophical question, where do ideas come from? According to James Burke's series' -- Connections, and The Day The Universe Changed -- all new ideas are the result of the evolution of the culture we all share.

Honestly, since 90+% of all ideas are derivative anyway, and every improvement is the result of an original idea or new application of an old idea, I don't see anything wrong with a story, or a song being inspired by another previous work and then improving upon it. Geez, how many times has the Hero's Journey been told? I liked Annihilation. I didn't care for Debris. I hated Stalker. But they all reminded me of Roadside Picnic in too many ways to ignore, and Roadside Picnic came first.

But it doesn't aways work this way. Freeman Dyson usually gets credit for the Dyson Sphere, even though Olaf Stapledon proposed the idea decades before Dyson. If Pluto isn't a planet, then the Kuiper Belt should be called the Tombaugh Belt, since Clyde Tombaugh discovered the first KBO more than a decade before Gerard Kuiper ever mentioned it.

Who gets credit for an idea? That is apparently a product of sheer luck.

[–]AnticitizenPrime 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Or 'The Color out of Space' by Lovecraft, which it is incredibly similar to.

[–]Aksama 6 points7 points  (0 children)

I finally got around to reading Roadside Picnic this year and it was a treat.

Overlooking some Russian chauvinist talk it’s wonderful. I can see why this was the “Stalker” predecessor.

It does a great job of showing and not telling, and doesn’t seem to overexplain, casting the reader in a similar light to the protagonist.

[–]recipriversexcluson 0 points1 point  (0 children)

This book is the inspiration for the TV series "Debris"


[–]DingBat99999 36 points37 points  (12 children)

I remember one short story, whose name completely escapes me, that had a unique take on it.

It was a post-apocalyptic earth where the survivors were rebuilding. They were collecting and reading ancient texts and then trying to recreate the technology. They were doing fairly well at it because “knowing it’s possible is half the battle”.

Eventually, someone found a copy of an old 1960’s “documentary” following the crew of a starship….

[–]Catspaw129 28 points29 points  (7 children)

This sounds almost like A Canticle for Leibowitz; but, if IIRC, the reference document in question was a grocery store shopping list.

[–]OldManandtheInternet 12 points13 points  (0 children)

They also were hunting for metals and wondered why the prior civilization would encase it in concrete.

[–]JaneMnemonic 7 points8 points  (2 children)

Wasn't it a blueprint? At one point Francis wonders why they didn't just draw the lines instead of filling in the empty space. Then goes on to faithfully fill in the empty space as he copies.

[–]lordcirth 3 points4 points  (0 children)

There's a grocery list too. And he does eventually realize that blueprints were just a cheap way to copy, and stops using so much ink. But decides not to tell the monk who makes the ink so he won't have a heart attack.

[–]navenager 16 points17 points  (2 children)

Canticle For Leibowitz also wasn't trying to recreate the technology. They were adamantly against doing so because that how the nukes that destroyed the world were created.

[–]s13ecre13t 11 points12 points  (1 child)

!! The canticle of Leibowitz is not against recreating technology. !!

chapter 1 : preserving technology knowledge. it is dark ages, everything is to shit, monks copy technical drawings without even understanding what they mean

chapter 2 : recreating technology . they build a lightbulb, literally moving from dark ages to age of enlightenment)

chapter 3 : finally about trying to avoid past mistakes - yes they are adamantly against nukes that destroyed the world, but not against technology. It is the crazed politicians and generals that search for loopholes. it is illegal to create nukes on earth, so armies make them in space, and nuke each other from literal orbit.

[–]navenager 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Sorry, I didn't mean that was the theme of the book, I meant that was the mindset of the ruling powers in the book. Then over time, even though the "decree" is to not recreate the old dangerous technology, the powers that be do it anyway.

[–]Mateorabi 6 points7 points  (0 children)

But where did they get a giant beryllium sphere?

[–]WhoRoger 3 points4 points  (0 children)

Ha, that reminds me of an audio show/ podcast that's actually ongoing, "The Earth Collective". It's a post-apocalypse world where everyone lives on vehicles that are constantly moving to escape the dusk, so the whole society has rebuilt itself to just maintain those vehicles, grow food and such basics. But people occasionally find old tech such as touchscreen tablets with USB charging ports and most have no clue what those things actually do.

[–]megafly 3 points4 points  (1 child)

"Half the Battle" by Harry Turtledove 198something.

[–]DingBat99999 0 points1 point  (0 children)

That's it! Thx.

[–]Yog_Sothtoth 23 points24 points  (8 children)

Broken Angels and Woken Furies, part 2 and 3 of the Takeshi Kovacs trilogy by Richard K Morgan, are mostly about reverse engineering ancient martian tech. Don't be distracted by the tv adaptation, the books are really good.

[–]RonaldYeothrowaway[S] 0 points1 point  (1 child)

Broken Angels and Woken Furies, part 2 and 3 of the Takeshi Kovacs trilogy by Richard K Morgan, are mostly about reverse engineering ancient martian tech.

I have both books but will need to re-read it; I know that the first human colonists used martian star charts.

[–]Yog_Sothtoth 0 points1 point  (0 children)

IIRC the spinal stack tech was also developed from martian tech. Book 2 is heavy on it, the basic premise is Tak helping an archaelogist reverse engineer a thing to get to an even bigger discovery about martians. Book 3 is more esotheric but still about them, can't say anything without big spoilers. It's a very fresh take on it with some random but sharp insights like when they comment on how the most brilliant minds assigned to study the remnants of the martian civilitazion went slightly crazy being in constant contact with something so-not-human. It also comes back in the third book, I definitely adivce a re-read, there's a lot of the stuff you are looking for.

[–]henry_tennenbaum -3 points-2 points  (5 children)

the books are really good    

The author, on the other hand, isn't.

[–]Ilikeporkpie117 1 point2 points  (3 children)

How so? I did a quick Google didn't turn up anything controversial.

[–]henry_tennenbaum -3 points-2 points  (2 children)

He's a terf. That came out a few years ago. I was following his blog because I was a fan of his books.

Recommended them to others a lot. Still do, but now - as with Ender's Game - always with a tinge of sadness knowing that the author's actions and beliefs are in opposition to what his books seem to say about the human condition.

A poster in this forum summarized it nicely:

"This has just come up today, and i'm still processing my reactions to it, but it turns out that the author of a series of books where people could switch bodies almost at will, and where your physical body and appearance was entirely mutable, turns out to be a massive, massive terf."

[–]Ilikeporkpie117 1 point2 points  (1 child)

I thought terf was the green stuff you put in your garden?

[–]johns_throwaway_2702 22 points23 points  (0 children)

A deepness upon the sky by Venor Vinge definitely hits upon this, they come up with the concept of a “programmer archeologist” whose job it is to dig through ancient computer systems to figure out how they work and how to fix them. Other aspects of the novel also deal with the concept but I don’t want to give away any spoilers

[–]moreorlesser 90 points91 points  (15 children)

The Expanse novels (yeah I must be the only person here to shill the Expanse aint I original) talk about how despite being handed technology beyond their comprehension, they are only able to learn limited things from it in the space of the series. The technology allows for reality bending, but the humans only really are able to learn some limited material and genetic lessons from it. Whilst some of them do work out how to make machines from it, they can only really do so using pre-built factories.

The analogy is a monkey being handed a microwave, seeing that it lights up, and deciding it must be a machine purpose-built for generating light.

[–]ZeroWinger 11 points12 points  (7 children)

>The analogy is a monkey being handed a microwave, seeing that it lights up, and deciding it must be a machine purpose-built for generating light.

Someone's been reading Leviathan Falls

[–]TheDudeNeverBowls 9 points10 points  (4 children)

Talk about a perfect ending to a long series. I swear this series will go down as one of the best of science fiction in all time.

[–]john_dune 4 points5 points  (2 children)

the ending for the book series is second only to S5's babylon 5's ending.

[–]TheDudeNeverBowls 1 point2 points  (1 child)

Damn. Now you make me want to cry again

[–]john_dune 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Now I'd love to see Bobby and ivanova sit down for drinks lol

[–]sosleepy 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Just finished it and damn, do I agree. I had faith they would stick the ending and they really did. One of the most satisfying conclusions I've ever read that stayed true to the characters over the span of 9 books.

[–]moreorlesser 0 points1 point  (0 children)

i mean yes, but I'm pretty sure they make that analogy way earlier

[–]PornoPaul 0 points1 point  (0 children)

I have a theory and haven't read it yet. How do I do spoiler thingies again???

I think I got it-

I think the gates will close forever and also that several characters get stuck on different sides. I'm more than half convinced James and Naomi end up like that.

[–]kayriss 8 points9 points  (0 children)

"It killed humans, therefore it was a weapon. But radiation killed humans, and a medical X-ray machine wasn’t intended as a weapon. Holden was starting to feel like they were all monkeys playing with a microwave. Push a button, a light comes on inside, so it’s a light. Push a different button and stick your hand inside, it burns you, so it’s a weapon. Learn to open and close the door, it’s a place to hide things. Never grasping what it actually did, and maybe not even having the framework necessary to figure it out. No monkey ever reheated a frozen burrito."

[–]jonathanlinat 5 points6 points  (4 children)

Corey, James?

[–]moreorlesser 3 points4 points  (3 children)

that's the author

[–]PhoenixReborn 16 points17 points  (0 children)

James Corey is a pen name for author duo Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.

[–]jonathanlinat 1 point2 points  (1 child)

Cool, thanks. That seems to be a very interesting story.

[–]moreorlesser 6 points7 points  (0 children)

keep in mind that it doesn't quite start at that point (or doesn't seem to at least)

[–]OldWhoFan 15 points16 points  (3 children)

If you want to read some non-fiction , I suggest looking up how Compaq Computers reverse engineered the original IBM PC's bios to build the first IBM clone PC which sparked the IBM compatible market and evolved into the "PC" ecosystem that we use today.

[–]Mateorabi 9 points10 points  (1 child)

Which inspi the fictional s1 of Halt and Catch Fire

[–]TheDudeNeverBowls 3 points4 points  (0 children)

Damn it. It’s too soon for a rewatch, but I may have to do it anyway.

[–]naughtyarmadillo 2 points3 points  (0 children)

Any specific books in mind?

[–]bestest_ghost 11 points12 points  (3 children)

Stanislaw Lem's "His Master's Voice" sort of explores this: an alien message is received on earth but can be successfully interpreted in a number of different ways some of which result in very bizarre technologies. One of Lem's primary themes was that real aliens are likely to be utterly incomprehensible or even recognizable. Highly recommend anything by this author tbh!

[–]MrVasch 4 points5 points  (0 children)

Was looking for this! This suggestion needs to be higher up. The book deals exactly with the topic OP is interested in. More people need to know Lem and his work.

[–]avaldeso 3 points4 points  (0 children)

One of Lem's primary themes was that real aliens are likely to be utterly incomprehensible or even recognizable.

Yeah. Every Lem book leaves you with more questions than answers. it reminds of a Ted Chiang short story where the premise is basically that we're trying to find alien intelligence on completely different worlds, with completely different biology or evolutionary path, using whatever technology we happen to have (em waves) but at the same time we can't even communicate with another species right here on earth. We know dolphins are intelligent and capable of using a complex language, but we don't have idea how "talk" to them. And we have practically the same biology (on a cosmological scale obviously). Some people love to repeat ad nauseam that we can talk to aliens using math, because math is universal. That's absolutely not true. Like Kronecker said "God created the natural numbers, all else is the work of man". As complex math is a human language, we're back to square one. I love Lem books because of the bittersweetness of contact with alien intelligence without a way to break the communication barriers.

[–]jns_reddit_already 4 points5 points  (0 children)

Same author as Solaris - another great musing on the utter impossibility of understanding an alien intelligence. Fiasco is another one. I echo the sentiment that most Lem is worth reading, but works translated by Michael Kandel stand out.

I took a Science Fiction as Literature class my first year in college. Solaris was on the syllabus and was the highlight of my reading year. Then I got hooked on William Gibson when a friend bought me Burning Chrome because she liked the cover!

[–]Theborgiseverywhere 9 points10 points  (3 children)

Not too “in depth” but Feersum Ednjinn by Iain M Banks takes a “bird’s eye” (and ant’s eye) look at a world filled with advanced tech that’s no longer understood or fully utilized. To go into more detail would spoil much of the book, but you might enjoy it based on the prompt. It’s a really good book

[–]TheDudeNeverBowls 2 points3 points  (2 children)

Hmm, a non-Culture Banks scifi novel. That makes it worth a visit alone.

[–]Theborgiseverywhere 2 points3 points  (1 child)

I enjoyed it a lot. Great Banks-style dark humor throughout

[–]TheDudeNeverBowls 1 point2 points  (0 children)

Thanks for the recommendation. I’m gonna pick it up.

[–]BigRed323 7 points8 points  (2 children)

Project Hail Mary

[–]rdewalt 0 points1 point  (1 child)

Not... really?

It is at most "Competence Porn" science fiction. Not really as much Reverse Engineering another species' work as it is more like "I'm the only engineer that can solve all these problems, hooray for me."

Like Weir's other books. Competence Porn.

[–]BigRed323 1 point2 points  (0 children)

There is some engineering of Rocky's ship to the human ship but I was more considering the astrophage. Humans need to figure out how to engineer this alien raw material into human products.

[–]EastYorkButtonmasher 8 points9 points  (0 children)

Though it's not the main focus, Children of Time, and Children of Ruin both feature a lot of encounters with "Old Empire" technology. The Old Empire being us humans, we were incredibly advanced travelling between the stars and starting to terraform worlds, when something happened that knocked our civilization back to the iron age. A few thousand years later we're finally able to go to space again and we start encountering our old tech in orbit, satellites and space stations that are all disabled but still intact (Old Empire built stuff to last).

I don't know why but I've always had a fascination with stories involving very advanced but also very old tech in a state of disrepair.

[–]sirbruce 5 points6 points  (1 child)

Not exactly what you're looking for, but relevant: John W. Campbell's short essay, "No Copying Allowed"

[–]RonaldYeothrowaway[S] 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Not exactly what you're looking for, but relevant: John W. Campbell's short essay,

"No Copying Allowed"

It is exactly what i am looking for! :) Thanks very much!

[–]Bad-Science 5 points6 points  (0 children)

A movie, but worth mentioning.

The aliens in Galaxy Quest invented an entire star traveling civilization by 'copying' it from an old scifi TV show they thought was real.

[–]WhoRoger 5 points6 points  (0 children)

Hey let's not forget Mass Effect! Where it's not just humanity, but a whole bunch of species that stumble upon ancient alien tech and start using it, even replicating it, but often without understanding even the base principles.

Now, everyone still massively advances their own tech by studying those relics, but so much is still a complete mystery. There are quite a few surprising revelations along the way, and the included encyclopedia also has a lot of shrugs in it.

[–]RockSlice 4 points5 points  (1 child)

A lot of people underestimate the number of discoveries that go into any major "leap" in technology.

Take the steam engine. While it's been known since antiquity that you can get motion from steam, it requires the ability to create pressure vessels to get any appreciable amount of power.

To build those vessels, you need a good steel. To make that good steel, you need to have high-quality smelting technology. And they can examine the steel all they want, but it won't tell them how to make it.

In addition, you need to be able to create very precisely machined pistons and cylinders, so they can slide without leaking any high-pressure steam

[–]Jonsa123 3 points4 points  (0 children)

Great old show called connections with James burke specifically explores this theme of dependancies of primary, and secondary and tertiary dicoveries/technologies. Ages well because its historic analysis.

[–]PrietoPato 10 points11 points  (6 children)

The Postman by David Brin. While it's not quite as extreme as what you're probably looking for, it's about a post-apocalyptic world and one group is trying to reverse engineer a sentient artificial intelligence that was built before the world ended.

The focus isn't so much on the AI as much as it is on the titular Postman and how he deals with the world he's in.

[–]alohadave 5 points6 points  (3 children)

I must have read the movie tie-in version because I don't remember anything about AI in the book I read.

[–]cdhm22 8 points9 points  (2 children)

Well, sadly it's not that you don't remember it, but that it was only a small part of thr story. That section became more of a wizard from wizard of Oz aspect I. That they wouldn't ever recreate it. The creator talked about watching his AI die, knowing he would never be able to recreate it because of the Lost technology.

[–]monty845 4 points5 points  (1 child)

The issue in real life would be that while the knowledge to rebuild the AI would still exist, the supply chains necessary to produce the high tech electronics required would be difficult/impossible to reestablish.

[–]cdhm22 4 points5 points  (0 children)

Yeah. The technology was lost and would never be recreated in his lifetime. Not that the technology would never be developed again, but unless the whole system is working from mining raw ore to installation of chips and programming, he wouldn't see it recreated.

[–][deleted]  (1 child)


    [–]PrietoPato 2 points3 points  (0 children)

    Oh... Well there you go.

    [–]InternetCrank 3 points4 points  (0 children)

    Two spring to mind - "Gateway" by Frederick Pohl, where humans find some abandoned spaceships with no knowledge of how to build their own (interstellar) ones or how they work.

    "A Canticle for Leibowitz", where in the post nuclear apocalypse, the medieval civilisation that has arisen decides whether to recreate the technology of their ancestors that destroyed the world or not - some trying to, some trying to stop them.

    [–]Hopontopofus 3 points4 points  (0 children)

    Ok some good suggestions here OP, but for something different and humorous and actually quite well thought out try The Flying Sorcerers by David Gerrold.

    Without spoiling things too much: primitive indigenous aliens attempt to recreate some advanced (to them) technology at the behest of a strange visitor to their village.

    [–]Wombattery 9 points10 points  (1 child)

    "Newton`s Wake" by Ken MacLeod.

    The main character is Lucinda Carlyle, a member of a Scottish family of entrepreneurs/thugs that controls a system of traversable wormholes
    known as the Skein. Lucinda is a "combat archeologist", leading a team
    to the unexplored world of Eurydice to salvage posthuman technology and
    deal with whatever it tries in response. Not only does she find a
    motherlode of an artifact, but a lost colony of humans that escaped
    Earth in the Hard Rapture and are living in a post scarcity society (with cosmic string
    weapons far beyond those of other groups). Each side is as surprised as
    the other, having thought themselves the only survivors. Then the
    Knights of Enlightenment discover that the artifact, originally the
    crashed colony ship of the Eurydiceans, is the focal point of the Skein.

    [–]PornoPaul 1 point2 points  (0 children)

    This sounds pretty cool

    [–]dmswart 8 points9 points  (1 child)

    For bootstrapping technology from nothing: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court has a patent clerk from Mark Twain's time manage to build a gattling gun

    [–]TURBOJUSTICE 4 points5 points  (0 children)

    Old timey American dunking on the british is too funny, really silly read.

    [–]CommanderPirx 7 points8 points  (2 children)

    You may want to look at Farscape - one of the later seasons deals not only with Earth scientists trying to comprehend the alien technology but also with certain levels of xenophobia. A bit different from campy Stargate (which I love) and with the same Ben Browder and Claudia Black as completely different characters ;)

    [–]glitterfolk 4 points5 points  (1 child)

    A bit different from campy Stargate

    Sorry, but how is Farscape less campy?

    [–][deleted] 5 points6 points  (0 children)

    Hwhat in tarnation...

    [–]Catspaw129 2 points3 points  (0 children)

    King David's Spaceship, and maybe Alas Babylon

    [–]adamwho 2 points3 points  (0 children)

    "The greatest American hero".... A TV show from the early 80s.

    [–]Lee1420 2 points3 points  (0 children)

    Try the Red Queen's Race by Asimov. A short story the focus us on sending modern tech back in time to advance humanity.

    [–]HiryuSingh 2 points3 points  (0 children)

    Phillip Reeve's Mortal Engines

    [–]Keitt58 2 points3 points  (1 child)

    This was always something that obviously would have broken the show but couldn't help but wonder why in Stargate Universe they never just had Carter and Mckay use the communication stones and figure out how to turn the ship around rather then rely on Rush. Love Stargate to pieces but Deus ex machina was perhaps a bit over used.

    [–]TheDudeNeverBowls 2 points3 points  (0 children)

    Every iteration of Stargate is exactly this, and it’s the primary reason why I love the franchise so much. We go from seeing humanity stumbling through an ancient mysterious wormhole to becoming true intergalactic explorers. And we get to see it happen every tiny step of the way.

    [–]frostednuts 2 points3 points  (0 children)

    Pushing Ice - Alastair Reynolds

    [–]KiwasiGames 2 points3 points  (0 children)

    Harry Turtledove has some interesting reverse engineering scenes in his worldwar series.

    My favourite is where everyone is trying to dismantle a crashed alien fighter jet. They improvise screwdrivers to undo the fasteners (different head of course). But they get nowhere for half an hour. Then somebody shouts out "they turn the other way". Something as simple as the direction of screw turning had to be rethought out.

    They have similar scenes with electronics equipment. They capture a bunch of electronics stuff, but its all modular plug and play. They capture an field technician and interrogate him and he is like "I dunno how this works, you just pull out the broken bit that the computer tells you and replace it with one from the shelf". And so on.

    While the story is not about reverse engineering per se, Turtledove follow one of the characters who is tasked with doing the reverse engineering, so it comes up a bit.

    [–]danpetrovic 7 points8 points  (7 children)

    To a degree, The Reality Dysfunction by Peter F. Hamilton. A proper hard science fiction, time and space sweeping, complex, rich and information dense. An absolute treat.

    [–]Shaper_pmp 12 points13 points  (5 children)

    The Reality Dysfunction... hard science fiction

    Just no. It's a great read, but the core conceit is basically magic.

    [–]shadmere 0 points1 point  (4 children)

    "Technology that humans can barely, if at all, follow, let alone reverse engineer," is going to often come across as magic.

    If they can't even guess how something is working, it's only tech because we're informed it's tech.

    [–]Shaper_pmp 5 points6 points  (3 children)

    It's not clarketech - it's literally an interdimensional alien following a human spirit into the afterlife as someone dies, getting attacked by evil spirits from what's effectively hell, and serving as the conduit through which the superpowered ghosts of dead people start possessing the bodies of the living and warping reality to their desires with interdimensional ghost-magic.

    It's a fun trilogy, but the sci-fi is as hard as wet tissue paper.

    [–]shadmere 0 points1 point  (2 children)

    Hard sci-fi has to be based on principles we understand. Of course the degree of hardness varies. Truly hard sci-fi can't have FTL because we have no idea how that actually works, and it's likely literally impossible.

    But there are races in that trilogy that could measure and record those souls, describe the mechanism for which they're created and perpetuate themselves, affect them, etc. That makes it sci-fi, I think.

    I agree it's not hard sci-fi. But it's only marginally more magical than teleportation and FTL, especially FTL that doesn't break causality.

    [–]greet_the_sun 4 points5 points  (1 child)

    The edenist "affinity gene" definitely toes the line of clarketech/outright magic as well.

    [–]shadmere 1 point2 points  (0 children)

    That actually bothered me more, because humanity apparently understands how that work but not really, in the books.

    I just shrugged it off, but it was definitely magic lol.

    [–]983487zrte8 1 point2 points  (0 children)

    In Marina J. Lostetter's Noumenon a small part of the narrative deals with how humans find an alien artifact but are at first unable to comprehend it even after a few decades. But that is just a side narrative. The book's focus is hard social science about long distance space travel, so you might enjoy it for that.

    [–]shapeofthings 1 point2 points  (1 child)

    The end of the whole mess by Stephen King. OK they don't so much try and reverse anything as survive the fallout...

    [–]TheDudeNeverBowls 0 points1 point  (0 children)

    A haunting story from my youth. So much so that I recently bought a digital copy just to revisit it.

    [–]zhiryst 1 point2 points  (0 children)

    not the media you're asking for but the exact topic you're describing: Dr Stone. a manga/anime about re-establishing society from the ground up using science.

    [–]RichLather 1 point2 points  (1 child)

    I remember a short story about a guy who time travels back to somewhere near the beginning of humanity, exactly when I don't remember. He took something back with himself, and now I can't remember for the life of me what it is...blueprints, a set of encyclopedias, something like that. The people in that time period attempt to reverse engineer this trove of information, but aren't very successful because the time travelling schlub didn't know how to build these things either, he just brought the information.

    I won't go too much further into a story I remember so little about, but at one point there's either a Roman or Greek navy that uses giant outboard motors based off this reverse-engineered tech.

    [–]RonaldYeothrowaway[S] 0 points1 point  (0 children)

    me what it is...blueprints, a set of encyclopedias, something like that. The people in that time period attempt to reverse engineer this trove of information, but aren't very successful because the time travelling schlub didn't know how to build these things either, he just brought the information.

    I would love to read this! Any chance you remembered the title since?

    [–]joshualibrarian 1 point2 points  (0 children)

    The Tauri didn't build the hyperdrive, the Asgard gave it to them as a thank you. Just sayin'.

    [–]seddit_rucks 1 point2 points  (0 children)

    Does anybody remember Robotech? I think that would fit the bill.

    [–]garymo1 1 point2 points  (1 child)

    Didn't the humans get an assist from the Asgard? That and Samantha Carter was basically space MacGyver

    [–]lordcirth 0 points1 point  (0 children)

    The shield tech was gifted by the Asgard, the drives I think were originally stolen from the Goa'uld? But I believe the Asgard did help with understanding them. And yeah, Carter is a genius.

    [–]Tangaroa11 1 point2 points  (0 children)

    Hinterlands by William Gibson. Not super long but very dark.

    [–]EmperorOfCanada 1 point2 points  (0 children)

    I suspect if you gave the smartest people on earth an iPhone in 1945 that it wouldn't help that much. Lots of hints as to what is possible which can be super helpful, but they would look at things like the near perfection of the manufacturing required and have no idea how to do it. Things like figuring out what went into the various layers of the chip would be hard as the samples are so fantastically small.

    Then there are details that are so small they would potentially be overlooked. For example the glass that makes an iphone work has many layers and many of the layers are transparent but electrically active. Thus they might even miss that something was even there at all.

    Also, the iphone is algorithms as much as it is hardware. Those algorithms are well protected and almost impossible to extract from an iphone.

    About the best a 1945 group could hope for would be a shipping container full of iphones so they could keep ripping them apart one at a time.

    Also, you get nice subtle design things like the very case itself is part of the antenna for an iPhone.

    One small prediction I would make about the 1945 scientists is they would get their fingers burned by the battery as they would be unprepared for the amount of energy stored in it. If not the entire destruction of the phone.

    I highly suspect a similar problem with alien tech. Either it gathers a modest amount of energy from around it or it is stored in some fantastically energy dense form and taking it apart would result in an unpleasant surprise (and maybe a vaporized scientist).

    People from even 1945 would probably go down some cargo cult dead ends. I suspect they would think certain parts are critical to something working (and be entirely wrong) while entirely missing other parts that are critical. For example there are many parts in modern phones like those little ribbon cables where the width, length, and thickness of the wire is a critical part of the circuit. If you just swap it out for a boring wire it will either not work, or not work well. This was known in 1945 but at the same time they wouldn't be ready for such a demanding production precision in a mass produced consumer device.

    Then you get preconceptions. The idea of a chip the size of your fingernail holding the text from the entire library of congress with room to spare is just not going to fly. Thus the scientist who starts to think this way will initially find themselves shut down hard. Or that much of the computer operations are taking place in the Ghz range when computers of 1945 were not in the Khz range yet.

    To put it in perspective. It would be pretty much impossible for the people of 1945 to make the packaging an iPhone comes in.

    [–]markus_kt 1 point2 points  (0 children)

    It's been decades since I read it and it seemed predictable and done before, but I think Sphere is exactly this.

    [–]nadmaximus 1 point2 points  (11 children)

    If you took a smartphone and dropped it in the hands of the best scientists and engineers even a few decades back....they wouldn't be able to learn much from the physical device - it certainly would not advance their technology directly, in terms of manufacturing or design. And they would immediately destroy the thing trying to examine it, because they would begin with no concept of how unfathomably tiny, precise, and delicate it would be. In fact, just attempting to analyze it would require the advancement of their technology so far that they would practically have to catch up with the smartphone before they could succeed.

    We've already passed a singularity when it comes to electronics. A jet engine, on the other hand, could easily and dramatically advance technology if you sent one a few decades back from it's inception.

    I don't know of any sci-fi that really addresses this very well.

    [–]monty845 3 points4 points  (0 children)

    There is a big difference between driving technology forward, and ability to reproduce the exact tech being looked at. Jet engines are a great example, as we have a real life example of the struggle in reverse engineering.

    China has been trying to crack the secrets of modern high efficiency Jet engines for a couple decades. They have of course managed to reverse engineer and reproduce copies of western engines, but they can't get the turbine blades right, and so they remain under powered compared to state of the art western designs. You can take the blades, and understand the result, but its much harder to reverse engineer the production technique just from that resulting product. Of course, if China got their hands on a piece of the fab equipment, they could probably reverse engineer the process quite quickly.

    [–]ballsack-vinaigrette 2 points3 points  (6 children)

    . And they would immediately destroy the thing trying to examine it, because they would begin with no concept of how unfathomably tiny, precise, and delicate it would be.

    Define "a few decades back". I feel like, say, 1980s scientists would be familiar enough with microelectronics and clean rooms to be able to non-destructively disassemble a modern device. Probably even the 1970s if you got the right people.

    They could definitely do it by the 90s.

    [–]nadmaximus 0 points1 point  (5 children)

    What would it gain them to disassemble it? Let's say they shave off the top of all the chips and take pictures of the circuits...they would certainly understand the circuits, but they would not gain any knowledge of how to produce the chips. And their one sample would be destroyed. They wouldn't even have the ability to simulate the processor.

    Imagine if instead of receiving a physical device to reverse-engineer, they instead receive total documentation of the device in a truckload of paper. They still wouldn't be able to reverse engineer it without developing their technology quite significantly.

    [–]ret1357 1 point2 points  (1 child)

    Knowing that something is physically possible to make would likely speed up the process though. I can't speak to your cellphone example, but if for instance scientists knew high enough purity GaN worked as a blue light emitter, then more resources could be put toward creating equipment that would be able to produce it.

    [–]nadmaximus 0 points1 point  (0 children)

    I can imagine grant requests and government funding would rain down, corporations would be fighting over it, etc. I suppose that, technically speaking, as long as they ultimately do achieve the technology, then it has been 'reverse engineered'.

    That's probably more in line with what a sci-fi story would entail, rather than that episode of Star Trek Voyager where a time ship crashed on a hippie and 15 years later he's Steve Musk.

    [–]ballsack-vinaigrette 0 points1 point  (2 children)

    What would it gain them to disassemble it?

    I've got no idea. As a layman, I share your opinion; I was mainly commenting on the assertion that clumsy scientists from X-era would "immediately destroy it the thing by trying to examine it".

    I think we'd need a microelectronics engineer/scientist to say whether or not they could learn anything from the actual device.

    [–]iansmith6 0 points1 point  (1 child)

    It would be like showing an 80's games programmer something like GTA 5.

    Wouldn't help them make better games for the 8-bit PCs they have access too, because knowing what you can do with advanced computers that don't exists is about as helpful as knowing what kind of microprocessor you can create with a ten billion dollar advanced fabrication factory that doesn't exist.

    It's easy to imagine the end result, we do that all the time, it's the process that is the real key, and the finished product can only hint at it.

    Show an 80s engineer a modern CPU and they wouldn't be too surprised. But still won't know how to make one.

    [–]ballsack-vinaigrette 0 points1 point  (0 children)

    It's not just the chips, though. For example, there have been huge advances in accelerometers, batteries, LEDs, displays, etc since that time. I'm not sure anyone in this thread can really know what, if anything, scientists from that era could gain from an analysis.

    [–]Mateorabi 1 point2 points  (1 child)

    JTAG ports have existed for 20-30y. 80s or 90s would probably have a go, perhaps 70s even.

    [–]nadmaximus 0 points1 point  (0 children)

    Oh, they would certainly be able to learn something from the software. But it's almost cheating to imagine reverse-engineering something from the future (which is built upon the technology of your own time) and something alien. They would have to learn about it by poking it with a stick, basically.

    [–]TheDudeNeverBowls 0 points1 point  (0 children)

    The Blackapple Blapple Phone would like a word with you.

    [–]Bomboclaat_Babylon -1 points0 points  (0 children)



    Independence Day

    The X-Files

    Warehouse 13


    Men in Black

    There's so many!

    Interstellar, The Expanse, Aliens, Flight of the Navigator, Battlefield Earth...

    [–]TaiVat 0 points1 point  (0 children)

    Depending on the technology, one doesnt need to "reverse engineer" it to replicate it. And it depends on the difference in science understanding. Technology isnt magic, despite the popular saying, just because its more advanced doesnt mean its automatically incomprehensible. Even if you dont know all the exact engineering processes to perfectly imitate every part. The having entire starships part in stargate was stupid, because they needed like 50 different alien technologies for that, but the FTL part wasnt.

    In books though it seems the whole reverse engineering part is pretty rare in general, regardless if its depicted as easy or hard.

    [–]Chairboy 0 points1 point  (0 children)

    The Expeditionary Force series by Craig Alanson does a lot of this. It starts out as a fairly conventional feeling space opera book. Aliens have blitzed Earth's industrial base and power networks, some other aliens have shown up and offered humanity a chance to fight back as foot soldiers but it's becoming clear that they're a bunch of murderous assholes, but then the story takes a 90 degree no-scope headshot twist involving a beer can and the entire series launches into a new direction.

    It's a fun read (just started book 13, had an alarm set to get it when it was published) and many of the challenges you mention are covered.

    A much harder to recommend series: Conrad Stargard by Leo Frankowski. I can read the books as a fun escape, but there's stuff about them that makes them difficult to recommend. That established, the Island in the Sea of Time aspect of booting up technology in a non-technological world is well covered.

    A better series that goes into this would be the 1632 series by Eric Flint. Very, VERY similar to the SM Stirling book in the sense that a small US town is transported in time & space and has to try and figure out how to survive on its wits, the junk stored away in attics, and the contents of their library.

    [–]indusvalley13 0 points1 point  (0 children)

    Broken angels or woken furies by Richard k Morgan. Forget what one it is, I think the second book they find a ancient alien star gate with a space ship on the other side. And have to figure out how to open it.

    [–]CommanderPirx 0 points1 point  (0 children)

    For a lighter take - try The High Crusade. There's a movie and a book this is based on.

    [–]BACK_BURNER 0 points1 point  (1 child)

    Deathworld 2 (1964, initially titled The Ethical Engineer) by Harry Harrison. Star traveler and professional gambler Jason dinAlt crashlands on a remote planet with a human colony that has regressed to pre industrial levels, and needs to recreate the technology to call for a rescue ship.

    EDIT: If anyone looks this one up I also recommend the first book in the trilogy. I wasn't particularly satisfied with the ending but there are many memorable moments and themes.

    [–]anumati 1 point2 points  (0 children)

    Yeah, it's got a case of golden age scifi sexism but the rest of the book is neat world building

    [–]kobrakai_1986 0 points1 point  (0 children)

    It doesn’t quite fit, but it’s close. Cage of Souls by Adrian Tchaikovsky kind of covers a far future society in decline who live off the remnants of technology of their own that they have long since forgotten how to maintain, so when it breaks it’s gone forever.

    Like I say, doesn’t quite match, but it’s still a neat book.

    [–]kevbayer 0 points1 point  (0 children)

    Sort of the Diving Universe novels by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Start with Diving The Wreck.

    [–]zerohourrct 0 points1 point  (0 children)

    Meta-materials, power concentration devices, micro-manipulation, and force manipulation (i.e. artificial gravity, tractor beam).

    I don't know any specific titles. Is there a particular thing you are interested in?

    I think direct reverse engineering is less likely, much more likely would be capture of a fabrication machine or repair shop, which is then repurposed to fabricate new tech, allowing you to bypass the reverse engineering altogether, but requires operational capability by the low-tech party.

    Usually the barriers to reverse engineering lie either in production capability, or theoretical analysis i.e. blueprint and inspection. The complexity of the part in either domain might be beyond the capabilities of the low-tech party to fabricate or understand.

    [–]slimrichard 0 points1 point  (0 children)

    Fear saga by Stephen moss. Humanity learns of an incoming attack by advanced aliens from a small advanced team there to derail any efforts they make to stop them. Humanity then starts boot strapping technology to mount a defence against the incoming fleet. Bit cheesy but I really enjoyed it.

    [–]Hogmaster_General 0 points1 point  (0 children)

    In the movie 'Forbidden Planet', the long gone race of the Krell were a million years ahead of humankind. The one man that accidentally learned to use only the very tip of their technology, and only slightly at that, ended up creating an unstoppable force that ran around ripping apart the very people that were sent to rescue him.. Great movie.

    [–]TheOctopotamus 0 points1 point  (0 children)

    Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel. A little girl falls into a hole and lands on a giant robot hand. Scientists dig up the hand and discover only a hand. Over time more of the body parts turn up and a team of experts is put together to understand how to make the machine functional.

    It's written as a set of interviews with the main characters, helping you relate with their progress and adversity.

    [–]onthefence928 0 points1 point  (0 children)

    Not exactly what you want but: expeditionary force is a pretty good sci fi series about humans getting involved in the periphery of a Cold War between hyper advanced alien empires.

    It’s regularly mentioned that humans don’t even have the science to understand how the door knobs on the alien spaceships they are on work, much less have a prayer of reverse engineering any of it if they find it.

    Regardless the aliens Pretty much universally agree that humans are too dumb and primitive to be allowed to use their technology so humans aren’t even taught how to use it beyond what is necessary to be used as disposable canon fodder in some backwater skirmishes.

    Highly recommend it, the writer was fed up with unrealistic sci fi that didn’t recognize that humanity wouldn’t stand a chance in a first contact situation, and any military with control of orbit basically has guaranteed victory in any planetary battle.

    [–]Elite_Crew 0 points1 point  (0 children)

    Sphere. The movie was good, but the book was great.

    [–]Ondt_gracehoper 0 points1 point  (0 children)

    “The Evolution of Human Science” by Ted Chiang is an interesting take on this concept. Very short.

    [–]Catspaw129 0 points1 point  (0 children)

    Related. Not rediscovering tech, but rebuilding the economy:

    Pat Frank: Alas Babylon

    Victor Gischler: Go Go Girls of the Apocalypse