Most interesting science fiction/fantasy monetary or currency systems?
July 6, 2014 9:22 AM   Subscribe

There are lots of interesting SF&F economic systems that are without money -- post-scarcity AI-nano cornucopias, magic subsistence economies, etc. For those who imagine worlds that still have money, though, what are the most interesting speculative monetary/currency/financial systems? (Please feel free to mention the obvious-to-you, as I've got big gaps in my SF&F reading and watching.) Thanks!

(For instance, along with all the "gold coins" and "credsticks" of SF&F I was really struck by Cordwainer Smith's distinction in The Planet Buyer between "FOE money" and "SAD money" to reflect the dangers of interstellar commerce -- "Secure And Delivered" money, for transactions on remote planets, is massively marked up relative to "Free On Earth" money, pricing in the probabilities and perils of getting anything from one place to another.)
posted by deathmarch to epistemic closure to Society & Culture (18 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
One of several plot threads in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon is the creation of a cryptocurrency secured by a large cache of gold that was abandoned by Japanese troops in the jungle of the Philippines at the end of World War II.
posted by workerant at 9:26 AM on July 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I enjoyed the literal application of the adage "time is money" in Andrew Niccol's 2011 sci-fi movie In Time.

"In 2169, people are born genetically engineered with a digital clock on their forearm. When they turn 25 years old, they stop aging and their clock begins counting down from one year; when it reaches zero that person "times out" and dies instantly. Time has become the universal currency; it is used to pay for day-to-day expenses and can be transferred between people or capsules. The country has been divided into "time zones" based on the wealth of the population."
posted by fairmettle at 9:29 AM on July 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Charlie Stross has slow money and fast money in "Neptune's Brood". Slow money is used to fund stellar colonisation projects. Fast money is what we would call financial assets today.
posted by pharm at 9:38 AM on July 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I enjoyed the literal application of the adage "time is money" in Andrew Niccol's 2011 sci-fi movie In Time.

Which is pretty much just a big-screen adaptation of the short film, The Price of Life.
posted by fuse theorem at 9:56 AM on July 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

In Damon Knight's "A Reasonable World" the world transitions to a gift economy. It starts with essentially swap meets and grows from there. The system works because everyone is infected with a parasite that kills them if they are doing harmful things to others.
posted by Sophont at 9:58 AM on July 6, 2014

You asked for obvious: Gold-pressed Latinum seems to be the currency for the Ferengi, because replicators cannot replicate it.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:59 AM on July 6, 2014

Robert Heinlein's proto-novel, For Us The Living, has a weird economy/currency system which is describer in detail including exercises in an appendix.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 10:07 AM on July 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's not really well-developed IIRC, but in Holy Fire, Bruce Sterling uses a two-tier system of money where old people have "real" money and young people have "play" money. It seems like everyone's basic needs are met somehow.

And I just read this the other day, discussing what the author considers the proto-post-scarcity economics of Star Trek.
posted by adamrice at 11:30 AM on July 6, 2014

As mars undergoes terraforming, the various political factions on mars at the time try out several different monetary and economic systems in Kim Stanley Robinsons Mars Trilogy.
posted by bartonlong at 11:31 AM on July 6, 2014

Not sure if this is exactly what you are looking for, but the two that immediately came to mind for me both still use money but are largely creative explorations about what drives the economy: Dune, where the money is the Solari but the economic driver is Melange/Spice, and War with the Newts--don't remember if there is a specifically named money system (I think it's just the normal stuff we were using at the time) but the economic driver is the newt labor.
posted by freejinn at 11:43 AM on July 6, 2014

There's always Cory's reputation-based Whuffie
posted by scruss at 12:09 PM on July 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

At least one of John Varley's Eight Worlds stories concerns the problem of the stock market on Pluto, which is seriously disadvantaged by being many light hours away from the big inner system Stock Markets.
posted by monotreme at 1:59 PM on July 6, 2014

The Handmaid's Tale begins with how easily a credit-card / paperless money system made it to completely render half the population impoverished. A few of those considered trustworthy were then issued chits or vouchers with pictures of items for sale to use for purchasing.
posted by Mchelly at 2:53 PM on July 6, 2014

I like the 'rights economy' in Karl Schroeder's Permanence. As technology progresses it becomes possible to track who holds the rights to anything - chair, tree, pretty view - and that drives pretty much everything in the worlds of the book.
posted by N-stoff at 3:46 PM on July 6, 2014

Although not stated as currency per se, the many creatures in Greg Bear's Eon and Eternity novels deal in and negotiate with information, energy and political favors. I know that sounds pedestrian, but keep in mind that the setting for these novels is across space, time and alternate universes. I can't go further without spoilers.
posted by forthright at 8:02 PM on July 6, 2014

Response by poster: (These are completely fantastic, exactly what I was looking for. Thanks everyone.)
posted by deathmarch to epistemic closure at 8:19 AM on July 7, 2014

Alison Sinclair's Breakpoint: Nereis includes a society that uses "obligation" as a payment system, which effectively leads to slavery (of people who owe more obligation than they can ever repay).

Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide series includes such currencies as:
- The Flanian Pobble Bead, which is only exchangable for other Flanian Pobble Beads.
- The Triganic Pu, a unit of currency worth eight Ningis, but since a Ningi is a triangular rubber coin six thousand eight hundred miles along each side, no one has ever collected enough to own one Pu.

The Demon Princes series by Jack Vance uses the 'SVU' or Standard Value Unit, equivalent to one hour of common labor.

The currency in Pandora's Millions by George O. Smith is booby-trapped to explode if scanned by a replicating machine in order to prevent forgery.

Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks has coins which are convertible for chemical elements, land, or computers.
posted by kyrademon at 8:58 AM on July 7, 2014

The residents of Luna City (and other Authority holdings) in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress use two parallel currencies, both truthily named: Authority Script which is the official currency and at the time of the story is experiencing heavy inflationary pressure and is only useful for paying debts owed to the Authority. And Hong Kong Luna (HKL) Dollars which is a "fake" currency which everyone but the Authority prefers because it is backed by (in one of the most hand wavy economic gloss overs I've ever read) a fixed amount of Gold or other defined commodities.

The protagonist says: "Simply know we were glad to lay hands on this non-money whereas scrip one accepted reluctantly and not just because we hated Authority."
posted by Mitheral at 3:35 AM on July 12, 2014

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