Story Germs 3

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

After ironing out the characters in Simon’s story, we started talking about the post-apocalyptic world they live in.

Chat, end of January:

me: hey, I had an idea about the Archaeology story
Simon: ooh tell tell
me: It came from reading the Martian General’s Daughter and Better Angels of our Nature at the same time. Premise: a stable civilization (Pinker calls it a Smart Leviathan) dis-insentivizes cultures of honor and violent tempers and so on. In general, people are brought up to save for tomorrow, exercise self-control, and put themselves in the shoes of others. Plus civilizations with wide-spanning communication nets tend to drive superstitions extinct by disproving them. Now, we could say that everything has reverted back to barbarism in the time the story takes place. Or we could have something of the old ways surviving. Something like the way the Chinese states never really lost their sense of history and rules of decency, even when they were fragmented and at war with each other
Your North America could look more like medieval Asia than Europe.
Simon: ooh. I like that
me: So like, an exam you need to pass to join the aristocracy? Called the SAT?
Simon: ehehe. Nice. I always like the futures filled with malformed, derived modern terms in the vocabulary
me: Definitely President=king etc.
Simon: so more of feudalism descended from the trappings of western society then fuedalism straight transplanted in time… I’ll have to re-jig the tentative social system I have, but that would be much more interesting then just tribal culture
much deeper
me: what exactly was the nature of the fall of civilization?
Simon: well, I’m thinking just serious, serious environmental collapse the equatorial regions are dead deserts, the seas are full of jellyfish, and men roam the circumpolar marshlands. <aybe all large mammals are dead too, and men ride slaves and herd giant geese. It might be really cool to take the feudalism couched in ‘parliamentary democratic’ terms as something that only evolved out of alien contact. Like kids inventing their own definitions for things they’ve heard their parents saying.
me: I like the giant geese thing. Losing horses would certainly put a hard cieling on empire-building. So maybe somewhere between China and the Aztec city-states?
Simon: Of course, if its a marshy circumpolar landscape, maybe they travel by boat through canals and natural waterways.
Simon: I was thinking more war canoes

me: I know the Inuit make kayaks with built-in runners that can be hitched to dogs and pulled like sledges. I don’t see why that wouldn’t work in marshes
Simon: Also, this is something I’ll be throwing in there

me: also the more I think of it, the more a marshy, fertile horseless centralized state sounds like Tenochtitlan
Simon: ahh yeah
I love that mesoamerican flavah
me: awesome hat-cloak
Simon: exactly and super weird
me: the mesoamerican connection might even be legitimate
Simon: yeah I’ve been thinking how to handle ethnicity, if at all everyone as a Latino Animist Christian
me: these people could speak a language derived from English, but with Spanish words for government and religious vocabulary
Simon: Christ, the sea god, giver of jellyfish sea-manna
me: Mama Maria la Tierra, whose wrath destroyed the wicked
Simon: her son ‘fisher of men and jellyfish’

Feb 6th Dan

As global climate shifts in the 2100s and 2200s, it acts as a “force multiplier” for other kinds of conflict. Ethnic, religious, and class tensions get worse as the food supply diminishes and ecological disasters send waves of “climate refugees” to swamp the social infrastructure of big states. These big states (or multi-state food-distribution/free-trade networks) sustain their population with massive technological projects: desalination, irrigation, land reclamation, all to grow more food with less arable land and fresh water. It works. Even as the earth becomes less habitable, human population continues to grow. This might be when the Van Neumann Zon-tar devices were created.

The fall comes with war. Perhaps it’s climate refugees from the desertifying subtropical latitudes, or an internal rebellion, or mismanagement from above or all three. Maybe we just run out of cheap sources of energy. In any case enough of the agricultural/reclamation infrastructure is destroyed that it’s impossible for most people to eat. Riots and mass migrations make it impossible for anyone to pick up the pieces. The knots of civilization that hold on in the chaos only do so by ignoring sustainability and burning their remaining fuel. Maybe some nuclear bombs and GM plagues are lobbed around. By the time the dust settles (three generations, let’s say), most of the world between about 30 degrees north and 30 degrees south of the equator cannot support agriculture, and the equator itself is more or less entirely uninhabitable.

Our story begins several thousand years after this Collapse. In North America, there is little habitation below 30 degrees north. The topsoil deposited in the American heartland by Pleistocene glaciers is now in the Gulf of Mexico, which is anoxic and devoid of most multicelcular life. Between 20 and 30 degrees, desert nomads shade into agricultural city-states based around low-tech irrigation projects spreading out from the great continental rivers and lakes (which are slightly poisonous, but whose water can be treated or used on crops). This Michigan culture reached its apogee 500 years ago, when barbarian invasions from the north unbalanced their delicate environmental reclamation. Now the Michigan Cities are shrunken and in ruins, although their religion, Madreism, has spread north to the arctic circle.

Newer city-states have sprung up around the Hudson Bay and claim to be the successors of the Michigans, although the Anglic languages they speak have only heavily borrowed from the vocabulary of the exulted Michigan Hispanic. Their Hudson Ecumen has established colonies up the northeast and northern coasts of North America, with some older, less loyal breakaway states around Great Slave Lake and Bear Lake. They are aware of a “north-west passage” around Alaska into the pacific, but have yet to explore much of Asia or the West coast. Civilization (such as it is) ends quickly outside the farming hinterlands around the walled cities. Barbarian river-men paddle their canoes or drag their dog-sledges over the marshy un-farmable wasteland. Their lightning-raids with swords, bows, and muskets are swift and dreadful indeed, but without the any way of making or transporting cannon, they cannot threaten the walled cities.

Politically, each city is sovereign, with an Alcalde (sometimes Mayor) or a council of Senadores. Small  might be “Little Brothers” to a larger neighbor, in which case the Gobernador, appointed by the Alcalde, is responsible for tribute, levees, and keeping the roads and waterways open. A Ministro is responsible for keeping the peace within such an alliance, and it is considered polite to use one to command troops in a war against another Ecumen member. For foreign enemies outside the Ecumen, you need a General or Admiral. The Holy Church puts Madres (male or female) in grande Catedrales, where they act as advisers to the Alcalde and help to settle disputes between cities before the matter escalates to violence (which as we know angers Madre de la Tierra). Everyone pays lip-service to the idea that one day all Hudson peoples will once again be united be a Presidente Grande. Staple foods are sweet potatoes, rice, and maize, with cattails as famine food. They also harvest jellies and keep farms of catfish, pigs, turtles, and giant geese.

Life among the Rivermen (or Kayakers?) requires less bureaucracy. A Manger is a respected older man who advises members of the community and helps mediate disputes. A Boss or Chief (or in more civilized tribes, a Henral) commands warriors in battle. A Memry (usually a woman) guides the band as it travels and intercedes with the God on behalf of the people. Decisions regarding the whole tribe are made by the Men’s and Women’s Bords (which includes every respectable adult person in the tribe), with the Manager presiding. “Folk” (family) or “Famly” (clan) disputes are settled by the most respected person in the group. Unlike the nomads in the southern deserts, the Rivermen have no tradition of gathering into multi-tribe armies. They survive by fishing, harvesting jellies, herding giant geese, growing cat-tails, and raids on their neighbors.
Feb 7th, Simon

Iron-Man-of-Manitoba Shaw-Warriors-and-Lil-Protector Peter-ShawFeb 7th, Dan:I really like poncho-dude on the left there. And I absolutely dig the stache you gave him in picture two (which is just an awesome picture in general. I love the sense of imminent danger). The characterization I get from this is a very serious dude. He’s proud that he’s good at what he does. It’s just that what he does is kill people, and he’s never been entirely comfortable with that. He has regrets, and those regrets feed his drive to continue his work. Maybe if he kills the RIGHT people, he can quit.

As far as world-building goes, I dig the poncho and sombrero. Also the naked legs thing makes sense for a culture that uses canoes rather than horses to get around (canoe-cavalry? Navalry?) In a way, these guys will probably conduct wars like classical charioteers, with two guys for paddling and one guy in the middle with a gun or other ranged weapon. When they come to a portage, the two paddlers become draggers (the canoe has a runner-keel to help it on marshy ground, and maybe detachable wheels for dry land?). In battle, the forward paddler becomes the light swordsman (offense) and the rear one (in armor) becomes the heavy swordsman (defense), while the boss in the middle shoots oncoming enemies. On open water, you get mini naval warfare, with canoes trying to get a broadside on each other (crossing the T) or making strafing runs at each other like WWI fighter pilots. Axes might also be useful weapons, since they can disable enemy canoes.

As for clothing: these guys will probably have lots of woven straw or reeds, almost certainly cotton, probably not wool, probably not silk (although who knows). Minimal leg-wear for canoe-men coupled with waterproof boots and cloaks makes sense. I really like the SE Asian clamshell hat thing, so I hope you use that. Armor could be steel (made from bog-iron?) or something more exotic like carbon fiber (grown from GM plants?). Here’s a fun idea: make the shape of the armor reminiscent of the design of the cyborg, suggesting that there’s some folk-memory of war-monsters that modern artisans incorporate into their designs to scare los anamigos.

The hinged breastplates are interesting. What’s the thought behind those?

More ideas will probably suggest themselves with research into naval warfare as practiced by:
The Aztecs
The Vikings
Pacific Northwest Indians like the Haida (who modified traditional harpoon-rigs to mount guns on the tips of their canoes!)
The Polynesians
Chinese administration during the Waring States Epoch
Aztec administration during the Triple Alliance
The Hellenic Ecumen (post Alexander, pre Rome)

Other possible sources of inspiration:



This picture strikes me as fairly realistic. I bet a lot of canoe warfare is shooting at someone until you get close enough to stand up and whale on each other.  A good weapon for this might be a rifle with a very heavy (or perhaps bladed) stock, so it can be used to smash your opponents after the ammo runs out. The savage post-apocalypse version of a bayonet.


Oh, sorry I forgot to comment on the cyborg. I like the creepy lobster-armor, but I like the bulky silhouette of the other one better. It’s interesting you’ve chosen to obscure his face, which (as we know from that great adventure classic Groom of the Tyrannosaur Queen, also from more obscure works like Star Wars) is an excellent way to cut off a character from the audience and make them less sympathetic and more evil. Perhaps the human head is actually in the chest of the cyborg, and when he’s feeling happy, the guy retracts a plate and looks out at the world with his real eyes?

Also, for extra creepy fun, here’s a nice design for the eyes:

Feb 7th, Simon:

I like the idea of armor reminiscent of cyborg design.
With hinged breastplates are based off of ancient japanese wooden armor, and I like the way they’re also a bit reminiscent of modern body armor. I’d love to do more and make their weapons look derived from modern military stuff, but theres always the danger of making it look too video-gamey.
But I really like the idea of incorporating monsters, etc, into the designs!

Visually, I wanted to try and mix up plains native (loincloth and breeches) with mexican and asian cultures, so there will be a few conical hats among the sombreros. The dudes I’ve drawn there were supposed to be wearing breeches AND fish-skin boots, which lots of cultures use (i believe they even show up in a certain book we’ve both been talking about)…

Really I want to just straight-up copy tlingit wooden armor AND war canoes AND weapons, but as someone who does a lot of work with natives (illustration work I mean, not social) I’m a bit sensitive about the whole cultural appropriation thing. Too easy. That being said, the close-up you sent me is part of one of my favourite paintings – the tlingit warrior in full wooden armor with rifle looks like something out of the coolest miyazaki story never told… some corner of ‘nausicaa’s’ world he left unexplored.

I’m impressed by how far you’ve gone into this, as I hadn’t quite figured out the nitty gritty of canoe warfare. I think that’s mainly because I only have the first section of the story visualized in any sort of clarity – and that part won’t involve any naval battles. Further along though a proper comic-sequence of a canoe battle would be awesome – and something I bet few people ever depict.

I had been thinking of the portage element, though – I figure an early scene will be Peter shaw and his troops crossing a portage and running into a whole bunch of anxious clamshell-umbrella dressed peasants standing nervously around a laser-blasted dead protector… a foreshadowing of the power they’re going to fight!

Feb 7th Simon:
Here’s the pessimistic map I was using….

climate-change-map

This climate setup feeds really well into classical archeological imagery, too – all the great abandoned cities will be in desert and scrubland, giving hints of ‘raiders of the lost ark’ and egypt, which is a nice legitimizing thought-line to touch on. I’m now thinking that “The Iron Man’s” base will be in a dried-up lake (where his troop carrier crashed in wetter times) and the great camp around him will look like burning man! Out on the playa!

Or something.
This is basically the historical setting I’ve arrived at, minus the apocalyptic war elements – in terms of sheer momentum I think our current global society, given a rapid change of circumstances like this, would manage to unravel pretty damn well without nukes or plagues. If a catastrophic climatic shift takes place over a decade (these things don’t usually take too long), much of the developed globalization-dependent world would starve without their cheap foreign-made food. I imagine you’d have a weird situation where governments would attempt to go isolationist right as their civilians would give up on national borders. Even internal migration within large countries would probably be enough to start some serious shit…

I’m thinking that the cultures of the “Hudson Sea” will be the dominant ones – jellyfish eating, rice-stealing maritime warlords with small fortified cities ruled by strongmen, who have a long history of raiding their southern neighbours.

(Developing this world further will go in cool places, though – with a largely ice-free arctic, the cross-cultural trade between North American, asian, and Northern European cultures would be pretty cool…)

But though the Hudson warlords rule, there are long-standing ethnic and religious tensions between them and their vassals – their contrasting religions being a huge tension point.

In the south, the farming cultures are followers of Hesukristo, the god of rebirth and harvests, son of the celestial father, and enjoy a more administrative religious experience in line with their generally more orderly lives.

But the hudson cultures are Marianites, worshipping the earth mother “Maria” and her son, Yesu, the sea-god who gives them ‘manna’ (jellyfish). (In this, Yesu is roughly equivalent to the inuit “Sedna”, a woman who had her fingers cut off and drowned in the ocean – but whos fingers became the beasts of the sea and who herself became the cruel sea goddess and granter of animals to the inuit. Yesu was killed by his enemies and thrown into the hudson sea, where he was resurrected from the dead by his celestial father and took charge of all the life of the sea).
They come from the shamanic tradition of personal, subjective interactions with the gods (while in altered states), so when the Protectors revealed themselves to the Marianite shamans of the north, the Marianites and the rest of their society were particularly receptive to this direct manifestation of godhood.I think having the agricultural peoples as being more ‘civilized’ and having a more organized, hierarchical society works. But what of the more loosely organized warrior tribes of the Hudson? Wouldn’t every chieftain call himself a “Presidente”, only subservient to the man with the balls to make himself “Grande Presidente?”
I’ve gotta dig around a bit more OR work on corruptions of “president” and “Prime minister”…

What I’ve been thinking as the current political paradigm is this:

The first person to contact the Holy Protectors is a Marianite shaman, who perceives the Protectors as Angels of the Father, (the uninvolved penultimate deity of their cosmology), and develops an exclusive relationship with the Protectors (which the protectors themselves support, as they want to keep control on any technology they give the natives).
This new empowered elite of shaman-priests, now with real, tangible gods at their service, appeal to the Presidents of the hudson tribes, offering education and technology in return for pious service to the Protectors. Harry Shaw’s grandfather, the craftiest ‘Presidente’, kills his rivals and becomes “Presidente Grande”, (or Presidentissimo) and begins a century of expansion.
For the Shaws, it’s a classic matter of superiority and control over their age-old enemies. But for the Marianites, it’s more about using the most expedient source of applied force to establish the Protector-guided new order on Earth.

The resulting political system is an inherently unstable one, with the Shaw Presidente Grande ruling the whole region like a mongol khan. All participant (hudson) and vassal parties must give tribute to the Grande Presidente and his army, whether it is in rice, gold, or labour, and submit to the Marianite plan.
But this empire, held together by the military strength of the Hudsonites, is increasingly administrated and controlled by the Marianites, who are busy building a new enlightened protector-approved world…

Thus making the Hudsonites, and their Presidentissimo, feel rather insecure in their relationship with their technocratic allies. In the days of Yesu Shaw, the Protectors could be compelled to occaisionally smite the enemies of the rivermen with HOLY FIRE. Now, they won’t even return their calls… would the marianites help if something goes wrong, or just switch allegiances to keep up with their plan?

Meanwhile, the rice and maize-growing vassals of the plains are getting pissed with both of ’em, seeing BOTH as invaders and oppressors regardless of better irrigation and more efficient resource utilization.

Since this is a society with no horses (all the megafauna was eaten during the collapse WAY back), I think that the most boat-mobile cultures (like the large, complex native cultures of the Pacific northwest and eastern woodlands) would  probably be better equipped for warfare then the land-locked subsistence farmers of the interior. Both pacific northwest and eastern woodland cultures would go on long, long range raids (haida gwaii warriors stealing slaves from oregon and california, for example) so I think giving the rivermen a heritage of warfare not unlike that (or the mongols) – where most of historical war is small-scale intertribal, but occasionally big multi-tribe armies will clash for big events (allied tribes annihilating a common enemy) is the one that works best for me. Then, having the agricultural societies as being more like city-states with vassal villages they protect contrasts well against more dynamic, ambitious tribal warriors.

Feb 8th

I like the idea of a dry, arid American Midwest, but my nerd-on is for the new subtropical marshland of northern Canada.  I’m also thinking about places like Greenland, which are now warm and wet enough for forests, but don’t have any topsoil. Imagine a land that’s basically a wet parking lot from horizon to horizon. Bleak.
However, for the purposes of the story, a desert will fit the theme better, and it will also be a lot easier to worldbuild, so yeah.

I don’t think any readers will balk at :”there was catastrophic climate change and the collapse of global civilization” as an explanation for why things are so different in the world of the story. Unless the plot hinges on them, the exact details can be left to the imagination of the reader.

Also: representations of Yesu should totally have a Crown-of-Jellyfish-Stingers

The impression I got was strongly centralized agricultural states around the Great Lakes (classical Cairo, Tenochtitlan, etc.) smaller-scale citystates further north (classical Macedon, medieval Paris or Khwarzim, etc.) are run by “civilized” barbarians. Then there are the stateless canoe people of the north and interior. But maybe the Hudson people are less civilized than I’ve been thinking. Maybe the buffer states between Han states and central Asian barbarians (Jin, Xia, Uyghur khanates, Kara-Khitan in descending order of civilization) might be a good model.

Another possible direction for Hudson is the Holy Roman Empire or the early Japanese states: they have no permanent capitol, but instead move their court from one fortress to another. Partly these moves were to avoid stressing the environment too much in one place (i.e. running away from the spectacular amount of sewage a primitive aristocratic court can produce), and partly they were a way to slough off the hangers-on at once court, avoid one city or fortress becoming too dominant in the region, and above all demonstrate the court’s wealth and power.

I was thinking more of Presidente being the equivalent of Czar in Eastern Europe, with the rulers of smaller satellite states calling themselves “knyaz.”
But I like the idea of Presidente being equivalent to khan, with Grande Presidente being a once-in-a-century kagan.

What’s the substrate of the language of the Hudson people? If it’s English, then “presnet” or “pram” might evolve, or maybe “predenny” from Spanish “presidente.” But then the word becomes gibberish to modern readers. It might be cool to “translate” the word back to its modern English cognate. So you get characters saying things like, “As one sun shines in the heavens, one President rules upon the waters.”

I like Presidentissimo. Were the shamans part of the same culture as the settled Hudson people before the Protectors showed up? If so, then I would expect them to evolve into an aristocracy, while the Presidents become a warrior caste. The other option is for the President to keep the shamans under his thumb by threat of force, a proposition that becomes more unstable as the Protectors flex their muscles.

The historical parallels I can think of are Louis the Pious and Hulagu Khan: the successors of empire-building barbarians, born in a time of political consolidation, when religion is more important that command of troops, torn between the warlike traditions of their ancestors and the scholarship and civilization of their newly-conquered vassals.

A fortress built on a hill would be impossible to take by river-men, or even besiege by people in canoes. Plus it looks like your city-dwellers still have gunpowder (Gunpowder without horses is so cool!). I think the canoemen would be a threat to trade and to outlying rice-farming peasants, but no more than a nuisance otherwise.

Of course, interior Canada may be a perfect battlefield for the caneomen in the same way the the Asian Steppe was for the Mongols. Maybe there isn’t any high ground and there aren’t any good places to build fortresses.

As cool as canoe-paddling Mongol/Haida/Vikings are, it’s worth giving them up for Clint Eastwood robbing the Pharaohs’ tombs.

We’re getting to the point now where we could waste a lot of time thinking about aspects of the world that will never appear in the story (or world-build something really cool that doesn’t fit into the story, and then make the story worse by shoe-horning them in). But that’s okay. It only means that the world is more or less built, and there’s enough groundwork laid to suggest interesting directions the story might go.

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  • Alexandra

    “As one sun shines in the heavens, one President rules upon the waters.”

    I love it. These daily updates are great guys!

    • bensendaniel

      Thanks, Alexandra! I will keep it up as long as I have material, which may be a while since Simon sent me a bunch of new sketches last night!