The ongoing saga of turning Simon Roy’s Archaeology idea into a fully-fledged story.
We talked about characters and worldbuilding. Now it’s time for more worldbuilding! How much worldbuilding is too much? About this much.
Feb 12th, Simon:
Just sitting my mind went in new directions today – probably to places where you already were with this story, but I had a few mental blocks in the way. Initially, I was thinking of this as a very loose, hunter-gatherer type of world. The problem with this, as you’ve already been talking of, is that its harder to believably root a semi-modern imperial culture in such a world after only a few generations. Both Hudson and Interior cultures need a more stable base for the story to work – and give the story a bit more to work with. More below.
Another thing I’ve been thinking about for this story, to maintain the feeling of ‘deep time’, would be to have the various ‘dead cities’ they explore NOT contemporary-looking, but the ruins themselves being from other, weird post-civilizational societies. Instead of paddling underneath a moldering freeway overpass, they paddle under a busted aqueduct with weird andean architectural hints…. deep time, man, deep time…
I’m thinking that pre-contact, it would be the standard story: A shaman, as intercessor between man and the supernatural, holds power over everybody in his/her tribe to some extent. But the final word is always that of the strongman.
But once the Marianites meet an ‘angel’ in the flesh (since the protectors are radially symmetrical and shiny like fish) their word cannot be doubted and they begin to rival the political leaders in influence. People already came to the Marianites for spiritual, medical and other advice, so know that they have much more to offer the people.
I’m also thinking that the Marianites will be a largely female priesthood, just to introduce more social and sexual dynamics into the story.
(I’ve still got to put some more thought into what exactly the protectors want to give the people and what they want in return. They’re intelligent machines who want to help people, but how will they do it?)
I’ve been trying to keep it a more restrained world, in a way – limit it to a geographic and political space where the Hudsonites could dominate other societies. With this in mind, the world could be at a very degraded point, civilizationally – the farming cultures that remain could be only weak shadows of the aztec-style empires that ringed the great lakes, which are now half-evaporated and too briny for much to live in… which would make them a bit easier to conquer, but folk memories of their former greatness could really inform how they view their current subjugation.
Well, maybe the Marianites are no longer truly Marianites any more. When God shows up and tells you that you’re doing his work wrong, things might change a bit. Again, I’m still trying to figure out how the Marianites would make this transition from mystical shamanesses to mystical technocrats – how would they fit the protectors into their worldview? It involves a few more additions to the Marianite worldview to make it work, too….
Let’s assume something new about the Marianite worldview (Now with a different name – Maria is gone!). Marwa is earth mother and Yeso is the active supernatural ruler of the sea. When Hudsonites die, they are set out into the ocean for Yeso to take care of, where they reside for eternity – but the ancestors live on as active supernatural participants, in need of honor, care and placation just as much as Yeso.
With this in mind, perhaps the “Protectors” present themselves as “servants of the ancestors” which – since they’re terraforming AIs sent by past humans, is technically true – fits nicely into Marianite ancestor worship. Folk beliefs could accrete around the Protectors, too – they’re the souls of great leaders, returned to help the people. It needs some work, but I think the protectors need to be more integrated into their host society for the story to work well.
THEN the tension between religious and poltical can come not just from power struggles, but from discomfort among the political elites that their religious leaders are ‘losing the faith’ or something similar – they no longer follow the true ways of the people, and are perhaps making deals with demons instead of gods. “We never knew about these ‘protectors’ before – so they could be evil”
With this religous element in mind, I’ve been thinking about the Cyborg too. Here’s some thoughts on the farmers and why they might rebel:
“But the farmers along the desert edge and in the interior – the Hesuans – have a more hierarchical society, with their priestly class on the top, ruling the roost, their military noblemen beneath, keeping the peace, and EVERYBODY ELSE at the bottom. HOWEVER: Once the Hudsoni, with better knives, guns, and tactics from the Protectors, sweep through the region, they destroy this system and dethrone the priestly classes. Initially the Hudsoni simply ruled and left religion to the people, but under pressure from the Marianites, they soon begin to set up new marianite temples…
But when they dig up the Iron Man, the oppressed Hesuans decide that he is Hesukristo IN THE FLESH (or metal or whatever) come to free his people from the Hudsoni and their demonic allies. This way, it’s not just the Iron Man’s charisma that compells the farmers to follow him, but his inescapable similarities to their own buried and reborn god.”
This is also a more compelling myth for your own power then just being a ‘servant of the ancestors’ – you’re a god yourself.
This all feeds back to the plot itself. If I can communicate some of these ideas early in the story – tension between religoius and political in the Hudsoni empire, doubts as to the goodness and holiness of the protectors – it opens up some new possibilities.
For example, Peter Shaw’s expedition could have a solemn Marianite Priestess along for the ride who can act in the role of political officer, pious religious figure, and maybe a sort of Romantic interest. Instead of dying out of loyalty for his brother, Peter Shaw’s doubts as to the legitimacy of the protectors could have him reluctantly join the Cyborg’s army (like you initially suggested)… but intervening to save the marianite priestesses life. Now the power is flipped (on multiple levels)…
Feb 13th Dan
It also depends on whether your world (like the real one) exists independently from the story, or whether the world is a prop to make the story you want to tell clearer or more interesting. The difference is between Tolkien, who writes about Middle Earth and its history as if it’s one of the characters, and, say Foundation, where the “world” of the Galactic Empire is never fully explained, but exists only to raise or reinforce themes in the story (the decadent Empire symbolized by a city-planet totally dependent on import of food, a fallen nobility=people who spend all their time hunting giant birds, etc.)
I like both kinds of stories, but I usually have to reign in my tendency to nerd out. If I want to write a book and not a wikipedia page, I have to consciously focus my efforts away from world-building toward plotting the story. As a result, I probably lean more toward world-as-prop than world-as-character.
But hell, this is YOUR story. I can nerd out and world-build to my heart’s content! Let’s talk about those giant geese, and how they are tended by a hereditary caste of goose-people. What songs do the goosemen sing on their annual celebration (Goosemas Eve)? How do we make sure that those songs rhyme in the gooseman dialect? Hold on a second while I work out a vowel shift from English to Spanglish-Shanghainese. And I should put the coffee down.
(I am not exaggerating. I have literally written songs in made-up future-languages)
Calling things “the Hudson Sea” and “Michigan” will put a stop to that misconception. Also some big landmarks like mountains should have stayed the same. You could have the archaeologists examining an artifact that looks like something from our near future. Google glasses? The hulk of a self-driving car?
I like the deep time idea (…dude…). Have you read the Book of the New Son? There’s this really cool part where they talk about “artist’s sand,” a multicolored sand that people use to make mosaics and mandalas that is actually the eroded remains of the windows of sky scrapers.
Sorry, I’m getting confused about the cultures and peoples. Let me make a table:
Name: Area: Language: Religion: Social Structure
Hudsoni: Hudson bay: English/Chinese/Spanish: Marwanism (priestesses, Earth mother Marwa and her son Yeso the fisher god): Shamans recently dominant over strongmen
Hesuans: The drying Great Lakes: English/Spanish: Hesuism (priests, Creator God and his son Hesukristo the harvest god): hereditary caste system decapitated by Hudson invaders.
Canoemen: Marshes north and inland of the Hudson Bay: English: Marianite (shamans, mother Maria and son Yesu): crazy nomad barbarians
Did I get that right?
If so, I suggest some name changes so that names for the people and the religion don’t begin with the same letters as each other, which will make them easier for the readers to keep straight.
I’ve been imagining the Yon-tar as Van Neumann devices designed to terraform the planets they encounter (maybe they were intentionally sent from Mars or some other human colony, or maybe they’re just floating around in space and finally made their way back to earth accidentally). In the millennia since their creation they have evolved intelligence, but they are still slaves to their initial programming, which is to make conditions optimal for human population growth. They don’t have any “instinctive” reason to care about the safety or happiness of individual humans, although as intelligent beings they can learn how to care about humans the same way we can learn to care about chimpanzees.Another possibility is they aren’t extraterrestrial at all, but a manifestation of a system designed to manage global climate, something that was supposed to halt climate-change, but was abandoned as civilization failed. Their population crashed with society, but enough of them survived to slowly evolve into what we see today. Perhaps there are whole ecosystems of these things around the equator that nobody knows about, busily working to increase albedo, sequester C02, and detoxify the ocean.
Ooh. I like the “solemn Marianite Priestess”. “Seducing you vas part of the plen. Not falling in luff viz you!”
His faith in her religion is failing, even as he is falling in love with her. Then, he is forced to keep her a prisoner. It will be his death if she escapes and runs back to tell the other Marianites about his apostacy. She says she won’t, that she loves him too. But is that a ploy to make him let his guard down? Or true love? Or Stockholm syndrome? Is Peter in effect raping her every time they have sex because she’s too scared to say no? Or is she powerless at all? The captured Protector seems to do what she says. Is Peter, in fact, HER prisoner?