Tuesday, March 17, 2009

World Creation Redux: Example Time Part One and Two

I wasn't originally going to do this - provide an example of world creation - but then I had this idea, and now I can't help myself. I'm going to do it. Alongside my World Creation series (Part One and Part Two of which are already posted).

The format will be this: at some point after each world creation post and before the next, I'll post how the concept dealt with in that post relates to this growing world. I'll be creating this "real time," as it were. You can help me refine this idea, adding things you think would be cool and taking out things you think aren't. I'm invested in this being cool, but my vision of the setting's details is still pretty flexible, so I'm inclined to accept any and all input.

Let the game begin.

* * *

Part One: What Are We Doing Here?

Steampunk.

Skyship.

Swashbuckling.

Adventure.

I'd add "enough said," but really enough is not nearly said at all, so allow me to elaborate: I see a world that is in some way itself an enormous clockwork, with humans eking out a living amongst the huge gears and unknowable machinery. I see an enormous city - a city of interlinked cities - rising out of the machine chaos. I see a society that is rigid and genteel because of limited resources, because the people believe that not everyone can afford freedom.

The structure of the world is this: the senseless, unknowable machine is infinite, as far as anyone knows. In the "center" (at least as far as the people are concerned) is a roughly spherical hollow about the size of the Earth. In the center is a tiny star, a source of light and heat that is sufficient to make the inner surface of the hollow habitable. People live along the walls of the hollow, in cities built out of salvaged machines. They have all the usual human interactions with each other - wars, alliances, societies - and they fear the things that crawl up from the darkness.

The setting is steampunk in style (follow the link above for a definition if you need one), but with an emphasis on over-the-top swashbuckling adventure. By "skyship,"I mean that if you had a hollow the size of earth, but filled with air, in which to have fantastical steampunk zeppelins and ornithopters and other unlikely flying machines, how could you afford not to take advantage of it? If I have to explain swashbuckling adventure to you, I don't know who I'm talking to anymore.

That will do for Part One, I think.

* * *

Part Two: Cosmogony

Of the various options for using a cosmogony in my story - as something I know, as something the characters know, and as something the readers know - I am going to focus on options two and three. I'm confident in my ability to maintain consistent setting without a cosmogony to pull it all together, and the idea that the machine world is unknowable and senseless is an important part of the setting. I want it to follow its own rules, but those rules shouldn't be intuitive to human beings, anyway.

However, I do like the idea of a strong cosmogony informing the actions of the characters and the perception of the readers, so here we go.

Most cultures share a common myth: that time began with a journey through the darkness of the machine towards a promised land, led by a charismatic, Moses-like leader. The different cultures don't agree on what was going on before the journey: some say they were fleeing slavery at the hands of inhuman creatures too horrible to remember, others believe that they came from a beautiful world where there were no terrible machines and strange beings to contend with, and yet others claim that humanity was born in the bowels of the machine and this relative paradise of light and heat is a gift. They also don't agree on the details of the journey (though the place where their ancestors emerged into the light is a holy city, revered by everyone, a Steampunk Jerusalem), the metaphysical status of their Steampunk Moses (Man? God? Both? Neither? Is he dead and gone, or will he return in our time of greatest need?) or the ethics he espoused ("He totally thought of women as lesser beings who needed to be protected from their own moral weakness." "Did not!" "Did to!") or what happened to him after the journey was over ("He died in bed, an old man." "He vanished into the machine and swore to return when he found an even better place for us." "He would be with us still as our benevolent god-king except you killed him!"). Although the basics of the cosmogony is agreed upon, these differences of opinion help create a variety of cultures and contextualize their historical conflicts.

At the same time, giving all the cultures something of a shared mythology implies that it might be true, which establishes an important fact about the setting in the mind of the reader (and, on some level, the characters, though they lack the same points of comparison that the reader enjoys): although beautiful and fantastical, this world is inherently hostile to humanity, and humans do not belong.

I'd like to note, in a self-satisfied way, that I maintain several of what I consider to be important distinctions regarding cosmogony. My cosmogony for this setting does not attempt to establish the ultimate origin of everything - the machine's origins are as unknowable and unknown as everything else about it - but instead gives the origin of everything relevant. Similarly, although I created a cosmogony that was strong in some ways - the most important part of the myth is constant across cultures - I am leaving room for other interpretations. Variety, after all, is the spice of stupid people killing each other life.

That will do for cosmogony.

* * *

Questions, questions, questions! In this project, I'm going to post places where I see need for input. That doesn't mean you should feel limited to answering my questions; by all means, say whatever you want.

Remember, if you like this direction, vote with your comment button. The more you say, the more I'll pursue this topic.

  • I'm having a quandary with regards to some of the world's physics. Specifically: gravity. I don't know if I want "up" to be A) a constant direction, meaning that in some places cities are built below the sun, in some places they are built into the walls, and in some places they hang from the ceiling; B) towards the sun, meaning that everyone walks around on the inside of the hollow like a (@ the Abigail: "*sigh*...") Dyson sphere; or C) towards the machine (away from the sun) so that all cities are built like hanging gardens, clinging to the walls of the hollow. (See below)
  • While I was in the shower, it also occured to me that I want ideas regarding basics like day and night and the seasons. How do these things work here? Are there seasons? Is there day and night at all? What do you think would be coolest?
  • I am looking for more ideas in the matter of mythology. Specifically, I'm looking for brainstorms ("Someone should believe this!") and whole ideas ("I've got an idea for a culture that thinks this, this, this, and this!") regarding humanity's ultimate origins, the events of the long journey, and the fate of Steampunk Moses.
  • I'd also like input regarding the various cultural mores that inhabit the setting. See "Steampunk" above for an idea of what I'm going for, but remember that I'm not married to a purely European-esque interpretation of the text. In fact, I'd like to get away from that, inject a little new blood into the genre.
  • Don't you just love the phrase "Steampunk Moses?" It's not one you hear everyday. "The Burning Zeppelin Experience: Coining Phrases Like 'Steampunk Moses' since 2008!"

That'll be all for today. See you tomorrow.

* * *

In the interests of keeping my process transparent, I'm going to keep my question and explain the answer I chose between writing this post and actually uploading it, and why I chose it.

Gravity works like this: imagine that the sphere is two bowls placed with their open sides pressed together. Gravity pulls towards the bottom of each bowl, with an area of confused gravity in between. The bottom of each bowl is full of water, forming two circular oceans. A huge, slender pillar extends from the bottom of each bowl, meeting in the middle, where it holds up the ball of light and heat that is their sun.

First of all, this kind of more complicated construction gives me a wider range of environments. I'll have my flat coastal cities near the bottom of each bowl and my cities built on an increasingly steep slope as they approach the middle of the sphere. That's just cool. Secondly, the area of confused gravity (and powerful, near constant storms) provides an Atlantic Ocean-like barrier between an "old world" and a "new world," which could make for some fun cultural differences. If the humans all entered the sphere in the same place, but some explorers braved the storm zone and founded a new culture on the far side, only to be cut off for years... I see plot. Since a thread I'm increasingly fond of is the idea of the city of Emergence and its holy portal, through which the first explorers entered their new home, as a Rom/Jerusalem like spiritual center, with all the attendant political and cultural conflicts, the idea of a "new world" is particularly tickling. A place where people are less superstitious or have developed a weird heterodoxy would contrast nicely with an "old world" that is obsessed with influencing and being influenced by Emergence.

That's really all. I mean it this time.

1 comment:

Kathryn_aka_Kat said...

Re: (2)
In Niven's Ringworld, day & night were artificially created by a set of solid plates linked with spaces between, that revolved at a different speed well above the ring. Seasons were static. Near the center of the ring it would be warmer, near the edges it would be cooler. When a plate came between you and the center sun, it was night. When it moved to the space between the plates, it was day. Inside your ship, with a totally artificial sun, the sun could simply dim (to moonlight level? or go out completely?) on a regular schedule. No stars though. For seasons, you'd have to make the temperature vary. How is the "sun" powered? Matter conversion? Maybe when the ship is in emptier space, it saves energy by keeping the "sun" at lower power. When it passes through a dust cloud, it can expend more power to the "sun". Which would make the seasons random, more like ice ages and global warming.