Story Germs 2

The ongoing saga of turning Simon Roy’s Archaeology idea into a fully-fledged story.

After a week of emailing back and forth, Simon and I had ironed out the plot of a story about a warrior-aristocrat in a post-apocalyptic North America and his dealings with his tyrannical brother, an insane un-frozen war cyborg from the 21st century, and a host of enigmatic alien entities.

Jan 16th


I think if I end up building this thing further, I think that doing the Zon-tars as heavy-handed wildlife managers would serve my own ideological purposes the best. The underlying current of “man the scrappy underdog who always wins because of some innately human rightness” that pervades so many stories like this is something that, right now, I’m a little cynical of, so if I could make it work, I feel like I’d want to the story to end not with a democratic, equality-driven resolution of man and alien on equal footing… but how to do that without making something too preachy or depressing? We’ll see!
Exploring the dark side of ‘human management’ could be brought in super early, too, both to contextualize their purpose on earth AND to explain why the aliens aren’t taking care of matters themselves. Something like: a major population center in the rebelling region had become afflicted with an unmanageable disease, and rather then treat it they quarantined and destroyed the effected population (like we sometimes do with bison with tuberculosis, for example). Having so recently weakened the regional population, they figure intervention by their human agents would most likely end with fewer deaths and a stronger regional breeding pool.
This also makes the region where the ‘iron man’ emerges hostile to the aliens and ready to rebel anyways – showing off the gap of understanding between the alien managers. “Why would these excavation workers rebel? We HAD to annihiliate all their relatives in those villages for their own good. It’s illogical that they would hate us for protecting them.”
There’s also be room for brain-exploding forced uploads, too – sometimes researchers need to dissect a few of their charges. That’s a particularly visceral evil thing to do, too!
(Why they’re managing humanity need not even be explained, I think – perhaps only intimated.)
One thing I just thought of too would be having the Peter character pull a “ned stark” and get killed when he refuses to join the Iron Man, (a nice cheap-shot on the audience since we’ve spent up until that point empathizing with him) then switch to following a supporting character – like his lieutenant or something – that will then have the character arc of joining the Iron Man and becoming disillusioned with him. I think that could work if the supporting character was strong enough – or empathetic enough, like the Hegemon’s teenage son, trying to prove himself any way he can with a teenage chip on his shoulder…
Man, now I wish I had the time to draw this damn thing! It’ll be in a slightly different direction then your outline, but there’s lots to work with there. Elements of ‘democratized superhuman tech powers’ to fight the zon-tars could be accomplished with barely-working thousand year-old laser rifles instead of ‘uplifting’ the tribesmen with cyborg nanotech. The visual of a nomadic tribal warrior clumsily slinging some big bulky laser tube (built for cyborg warriors) is an awfully tempting one for me… Picture a khan-era mongolian horseman with some natty leather strap of his own design tied to a big-ass laser! THE GOD-LANCE!…
Jan 16th, Dan:
The Zon-tars as heavy-handed wildlife managers could be very powerful. On the one hand, they are doing the noble work of keeping human population stable in the long term (and why ask why? They think it’s important, the same way we think its important to keep bison populations stable), on the other hand, from the human perspective, this is horrible endless oppression and genocide (what happens when the herds need culling?). Oh, as added horror-bonus, forced breeding programs when the population is too low, and when it’s too high, they encourage people like Peter to go to war. That way we get to lower the population, weed out the gene pool, and engage in a fascinating and ancient human custom.

Depressing is the danger here, I think. Most real-world first-contact scenarios are heart-breaking. But drawing from them, here are a few of the more positive outcomes:
Humans are absorbed into alien society at the cost of our traditional way of life.
Humans continue their traditional way of life as a form of performance art for alien tourists.
Aliens pay humans for services in goods, not knowledge, creating a class of warlords who use alien technology to oppress everyone else.
Aliens ignore humans, allowing us our independence and traditions, but cutting us off from the opportunities of interstellar civilization, and leaving us vulnerable to alien outlaws.
But there is no way for us to beat the aliens at their own game. There will never be a uniquely human space-ship, only a human-built space-ship copied from alien blue-prints and produced more cheaply. But Earth-as-China is probably way to optimistic. Probably it will be more like humans-as-New Guinea, with human-built space-ships the equivalent of cargo-cult coconut radios and wooden airplanes….

I think killing Peter depends on whether you want to write a relatively short, coherent, “tight” story (one guy does one thing and that’s the end, like a novel), or whether you want a sprawling epic. I’ve learned to avoid epics (because I want to write a different book every year and increase my chances of getting published), but perhaps an epic would work better (i.e. not be so hard to write) as a comic. Each edition might be very short, and people don’t necessarily expect them to follow the same character.

…Peter’s nephew as secondary main character could work, but, if you want to go that route, I definitely think you need to tell multiple stories from multiple point of view characters from the beginning. That way when Peter dies, people who are invested in him aren’t left high and dry. They will continue to read the series because they want to know what will happen to the other characters they’ve come to love.

Who might those characters be?
1. Peter (brother of the local warlord, armed with alien technology he doesn’t understand, good at soldiering, but too moral and prone to second-guessing for the job of general)
2. A fanatic (or a mystic? I’m thinking of Muhammad Abdullah Hassan, or even better, Muhammad Ahmad bin Abd Allah). Perhaps he is slowly disillusioned with Iron? Might be interesting to make this person a woman.
3.Iron’s right-hand, a teenager sent to work at the dig, then returned home to find his village had been quarantined and destroyed.
4. A nomad who sees Peter’s little kingdom as just as much an oppressor as the aliens. Perhaps a Bedouin to Peter’s Arab. A guide to Iron and his party as they search for the Lost Factory. Perhaps plans to use the Factory for the tribe.
5. A female spy sent to keep Peter in line. Love opportunities (with peter or with our number 3 man). Perhaps her cover is that she is a lore-master (i.e. a quasi-engineer, someone who knows how to make high-tech artifacts work). Her training is with alien tech (which is like magic), but she’s spent enough time with the archaeologists to grasp some 21st-century human technology and basic science. She has the know-how necessary to repair Iron and activate the factory.

And if you want to get weird:
1. Iron himself, depending on whether you want him to be a sympathetic person or a demigod/force of nature
2. One of the zon-tar (same caveats, plus it might make more sense to leave them enigmatic and mysterious), but if you do want to include one, a naieve archaeologists who sympathizes with the workers and gets caught up in the rebellion. Wounded so it cannot escape or call for help, it gets dragged around by the rebellion, being tortured, and demonstrating that not all aliens are bad-guys.
… I’ve been using England/Egypt as my map for this story, but China/Central Asia would also give us some excellent stories.
Someone like Genghis Khan (a middle-aged leader of a minor tribe of losers is forced to take over the continent in order to keep his family safe) would be cool. Also there’s Jamukha (the treacherous blood-brother), Teb-Tengri (the scheming shaman), Borte (the kick-ass politically savvy wife), Subutai (a commoner who became a horde’s greatest general), Jebe the Arrow (an enemy general captured and re-purposed)…take your pick….

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  • Sean Cusack

    Interesting! The conservative aspect sort of reminds me of my own little story brewing in my head, although it’s written it actually hits conservationism a different way. In my story, humans want to observe a sophont species on another planet but refuse to give them any technology or knowledge because we don’t want to interfere, but to the aliens we are just withholding our medical technology that would better their lives, and pissed as a result.

    • bensendaniel

      Excellent point. How would we like it if an advanced civilization didn’t share its toys with us? See http://www.amazon.com/Savages-Joe-Kane/dp/0679740198
      I’d read that story. What do the aliens do about their grievances?

      • Sean Cusack

        At first, they try to brown nose humans for a bit but things get sour overtime. Since the human population is tiny here, it doesn’t take too much to start making a whole mess of problems start popping up when the aliens begin to raid the human settlement, with varying success.

        • bensendaniel

          Sounds plausible. Any humans who disagree with the policy? Can the aliens sell us anything we want? Are they sitting on any resources they want. History teaches us that the first is good (leading to trading partnership) the second is bad (leading to slavery).

          • Sean Cusack

            Hmmm, so far I don’t have anyone disagree with the policy. People either think that giving the aliens the technology will screw with their development or that giving the aliens our technology will just start a snowball effect that’ll end badly. I do have a character see the issue in the alien’s perspective, where plagues can end entire empires on their planet, but I don’t think I’ll have her ever fully side with the aliens.
            Since the expedition is mainly geared toward research, the aliens can only give their culture and guidance as value to humans, but humans are extremely unwilling to give anything back to the aliens. At most the humans give them some knowledge about the alien’s own history, which is filled to the brim with lost civilizations.

          • bensendaniel

            Interesting. I’m sure you can find real-world parallels where anthropologists are forced to chose between objective observation and the moral imperative to help someone in need. The stories I’ve heard usually end with the second choice, but when you’re dealing with gross aliens and not cuddly humans, it might be easier to ignore their suffering.

    • bensendaniel

      Also I think you mean “conservationist” (people interested in saving trees) versus “conservative” (people interested in preserving traditional culture, or in lower taxes)