I’d like to try to gather together what we have so far in a more organized fashion and then continue the discussion. The previous post ran almost to almost 40 comments and is getting somewhat unwieldy. If you have just come upon this shared world discussion and would like to join it from the beginning, skip down a couple posts and read the first one (which also links to a post on Brandon Bell’s blog—the idea of doing a shared world was his initially). This post and the original one can be called up together using the “shared world” label at the bottom of the post. You’ll also find another post related to this at Clifford Green’s blog (which is fun to read generally) in which he points out quite correctly that some of us largely ignored/forgot about what he and Kaolin Fire were saying during the initial Twitter discussion on this topic (they are @SatansPuppet and @kaolinfire on Twitter). We certainly did not intend to ignore anyone’s input, and everyone is welcome to come right here and get involved.
So I will summarize what I think we have so far, and then we will continue discussing ideas. Also, I may miss some major points here, so add/correct as needed in the comments. Keep in mind that this summary is only of what we have so far, resulting from the comments on the original post. It’s not to say that any or all of it is set in stone yet. If anybody has new or different ideas, please express them. Anyone at all who may want to write in this shared universe or possibly create other art based on it is welcome to join in the discussion.
THE PROJECT: Create a shared world as the setting for a group of short stories that will fill a future issue of M-Brane. The world itself will be made available under a Creative Commons license for anyone to create in, and hopefully this will inspire a lot of good work in a lot of venues in the future.
THE WORLD: Alternate historical Earth where a technological divergence (possibly/probably influenced or accelerated by extraterrestrial contact) from what happened in our real history enables ancient civilizations to rapidly advance into the space age. The cultures we are considering using include, so far: Egypt, Greece, China, Aztec or some meso-American civilization. Others that have been suggested include Indians, Romans, Moors and some sort of sub-Saharan African civilization. They can’t all exist in the same timeframe, so nailing that down will answer some of these questions.
THE SOCIETY: We have said little about this yet, but these suggestions have come up:
1. Ancient social/governmental structures persist into the space-faring era. Egypt has a Pharaoh, China still has its dynasty, etc.
2. A plethora of different cultures exist on Earth and the inhabited off-world areas, some of them more and some of them less under the sway of the major Earth powers; possibly the Great Powers don’t necessarily rule the whole Earth or all the off-world places directly; a possibility that there exist enormous technological gaps between the Great Powers and less powerful cultures.
TECHNOLOGY: We’ve said more about this so far than some other things. Everyone in the discussion so far seems to agree that this alternate Earth is a space-faring world with settlements off world, perhaps fully inhabited long-established other planets. Whether this is a “recent” or “long ago” development is unclear. Also, one contributor has proposed establishing a canonical time-lime spread over centuries, so possibly some stories will be set in pre-space flight times, some during (for example) the colonization of Mars, some centuries after, etc. We seem to like these technological things so far:
1. A general sense of the old and new and weird existing side-by-side, possibly with a good deal of steampunk vibe. One contributor suggested such things as dangerous, unreliable space travel methods, states armed with nuclear weapons that are carried around by zeppelins, steam tech co-existing with nuclear/computer age stuff, maybe some radically different direction for computers than what happened in the real world.
2. Everyone appears to agree that the Moon, Mars and Venus are inhabited, and possibly some other locations as well. There may also be artificial structures in space. So these places need to be inhabitable somehow. Here is a summary of what’s been said on this, and keep in mind that these are only ideas, they are not necessarily all mutually compatible:
a) The other planets have been terraformed with the aid of giant heaters to maintain temperature and gas generators that need to constantly pump out an atmosphere (this idea seems to be gaining ground in the group);
b) some sort of breathable “ether” encompasses the Earth/Moon neighborhood and it’s possible to travel between them in rickety, non-pressurized vehicles; this idea seems to be losing traction, and perhaps wouldn’t be applicable to the further away worlds anyway;
c) A third idea: The other planets such as Mars and Venus were “living” all along in this universe and never required massive terraforming to make them inhabitable; if so, did they have any kind of important native life already?
3. Other items that may or may not exist include: space stations, space elevators; we need to also consider what the method of space travel itself is like, but that may resolve itself when we decide some more stuff about the planet issues above.
4. A lot more consideration needs to be given to how the technological revolution happens. The discussion so far seems to be heading toward a combo of real historically plausible innovations that are then impacted by humans gaining knowledge of (and perhaps direct intervention by) something extraterrestrial (see Brandon’s proposed timeline toward the end—about the 34th comment—of the comments on the original post).
BASIC RULES: It seems we have settled on a more or less rational/scientific world as opposed to a fantastical/magical one, so we’ll assume that anything that is proposed in stories ought to be explainable by science, or at least in a way that is in-universe consistent scientifically. Once the world is fleshed out, we’ll have it be a rule that major structure of it can’t be destroyed (like it won’t be “canonical” if a story depicts the complete annihilation of one of the great powers, etc.). That’s about it for the rules so far, unless I missed something.
That seems to be most of the major elements from the conversation so far. I would like to note that Brandon, near the start of the comments on the earlier post, proposed an entirely other scenario that we didn’t pursue any further after the alternate history thing got going. I wonder, however, if there aren’t some useful elements there that could be transplanted—it has a lot of freaky weirdness that might be worth another look.
Let’s contemplate all this and keep throwing out ideas, perhaps with special attention to technological matters (how the other planets get settled, what sort of computers these people have, what travel on Earth is like) and the what/if details of the alien intervention. Also we may want to settle more firmly on when exactly in history this alternate world spins off so we know who we’re talking about as far as major players (as I said before, Egypt seems the popular favorite, so maybe we’ll continue to plan around that).
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Friday, June 26, 2009
Labels: Shared World