Mighty starships plied their way between exotic suns, seeking adventure and reward among the furthest reaches of Galactic space. In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. And all dared to brave unknown terrors, to do mighty deeds, to boldly split infinitives that no man had split before--and thus was the Empire forged.
Many men of course became extremely rich, but this was perfectly natural and nothing to be ashamed of because no one was really poor--at least no one worth speaking of. And for all the richest and most successful merchants life inevitably became rather dull and niggly, and they began to imagine that this was therefore the fault of the worlds they'd settled on. None of them was entirely satisfactory: either the climate wasn't quite right in the later part of the afternoon, or the day was half an hour too long, or the sea was exactly the wrong shade of pink.
And thus were created the conditions for a staggering new form of specialist industry: custom-made luxury planet building. The home of this industry was the planet Magrathea, where hyperspatial engineers sucked matter through white holes in space to form it into dream planets--gold planets, platinum planets, soft rubber planets with lots of earthquakes--all lovingly made to meet the exacting standards that the Galaxy's richest men naturally came to expect.
But so successful was this venture that Magrathea itself soon became the richest planet of all time and the rest of the Galaxy was reduced to abject poverty. And so the system broke down, the Empire collapsed, and a long sullen silence settled over a billion hungry worlds, disturbed only by the pen scratchings of scholars as they labored into the night over smug little treatises of the value of a planned political economy.
Magrathea itself disappeared and its memory soon passed into the obscurity of legend.
In these enlightened days, of course, no one believes a word of it.
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