Fictional Currency

galactic credit

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A fictional currency is some form of defined or alluded currency in works of fiction. The names of such units of currency are sometimes based on extant or historic currencies (e.g. ‘Altairian dollars’ or ‘Earth yen’) while others, such as ‘Kalganids’ in Asimov’s ‘Foundation’ series, may be wholly invented. A particularly common type, especially in science fiction, is electronically managed ‘credits.’ In some works of fiction, exchange media other than money are used. These are not currency as such, but rather nonstandard media of exchange used to avoid the difficulties of ensuring ‘double coincidence of wants’ in a barter system.

Authors have to take care when naming fictional currencies because of the associations between currency names and countries; recognizable names for currencies of the future may be used to imply how history has progressed, but would appear out of place in an entirely alien civilization. Historical fiction may need research. Writers need not explain the exact value of their fictional currencies or provide an exchange rate to modern money; they may rely on the intuitive grasp of their readers, for instance that one currency unit is probably of little value, but that millions of units will be worth a lot.

Currencies in science fiction face particular problems due to futuristic technology allowing matter replication and hence forgery. Authors have proposed currencies that are incapable of replication such as the non-replicable ‘latinum’ used by the Ferengi in the ‘Star Trek’ universe, or the currency in ‘Pandora’s Millions’ by George O. Smith, which is booby-trapped to explode if scanned by a replicating machine. Money in fantasy fiction faces analogous challenges from the use of magic; in the ‘Harry Potter’ series by J. K. Rowling, magically-created currency is time-limited, while in Ursula K. Le Guin’s fictional realm of ‘Earthsea,’ the world’s Equilibrium is unbalanced when something is created from nothing.

The long-term value of currency is an issue in works featuring journeys through time or the elapse of very long periods (for instance due to the deep sleep or cryopreservation of the protagonists). In some cases, compound interest may swell small amounts into a fortune, as happens in the ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams and ‘When the Sleeper Wakes’ by H. G. Wells. In other stories, inflation reduces the value of money, as in ‘The Age of the Pussyfoot’ by Frederik Pohl. Other plot factors can affect the worth of currency; for instance, in ‘The Moon Metal’ by Garrett P. Serviss the world’s currency standard must be switched from gold to a mysterious new chemical, ‘artemisium,’ after the discovery of vast mineral deposits in the Antarctic devalues all known precious metals.

While modern fiat currencies lack intrinsic worth, some fictional currencies are designed to be valuable in their own right. Intrinsically valuable currencies are used in the Frank Herbert’s ‘Dune’ universe; the ‘Dragonlance’ world of Krynn where steel coins are the primary currency and are more valuable than gold by weight; and the ‘Apprentice Adept’ series by Piers Anthony. The space opera ‘Consider Phlebas’ by Iain M. Banks features coins convertible for chemical elements, land, or computers. In utopian fiction, a money-free economy may still need a unit of exchange: in ‘The Great Explosion’ by Eric Frank Russell, the Gands use favor-exchange based on ‘obs’ (obligations).

The use of ‘credits’ is particularly common in futuristic settings.

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