Friday, June 26, 2009

Shared World Project: Summary so far

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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derekjgoodman said...

The alien intervention seems to be key in altering the course of this world, but so far it has barely been talked about. Who are they aliens and why did they intervene in the first place? After the initial intervention, did they stick around and watch what they's created or did they take off? I personally like the idea that they're still around, just kind of watching it all, like this is all some big experiment. Occasionally they can intervene again, but maybe further intervention is considered taboo.

Nithska said...

Maybe the spat of alien contacts (I suggest a few instances of contact) are race #1 fleeing from race #2 and by doing a bit of tech uplift they are essentially trying to put a 'tiger' between them.


Maybe it is a few goof-offs flaunting the 'prime directve' and the interventions stop after it is reasserted among the aliens.


Maybe it is time tourists from the future, spinning off new timelines with each venture back. could culminate with some primary figure shooting forward to destroy the time machine civilization.


I also like the post organic idea... here to rush us toward 'post organic day one' ie, The Singularity.


Lets decide on earliest date that diverges from historical fact and go from there. This will be easy because you'll probably want some event that you want to mess with. So, the things I looked at, I am happy with 500BC as that earliest date, but perhaps there are other events we want to include that date further back.

Also, maybe if the printing press has been around for a LONG time, like no one really knows, it just has always been and hence literacy rates are through the roof, how would things be different? Easier to imagine the tech jump.

Last, Can we break this down into a basic description or Writers Guidelines? If we can define some heuristics, Chris can act as gatekeeper and as stories come in that are up to par, we fill in the cannon. That way writers are not totally hemmed in.

---Writer's guidelines/rules and 'The world as we know so far'.

---Proposed timeline that will become cannon as stories are written.

And go from there.

Neil said...

Some thoughts:

Alien intervention:
I agree with derekjgoodman regarding the aliens – Who are they? Why did they intervene? Are they still observing?
Also – Have they come from the future, coming back in time to drop some tech hints on a civilisation? Then, a war breaks out in the race for space, resulting in the fall of certain civilisations.

Egypt or Greece appears to be the favourite but let’s not dismiss the Aztecs or similar meso-American culture (as indicated by mbranesf). Their collapse and subsequent disappearance could be from them losing out in the space race or trying to get a jump on technology but it failed spectacularly.

A curveball or two:
1. Jesus, or another historical figure, was an alien sent to keep track of the experiment.
2. The alien/bad things/humans concept could be explored further – what do you think? Chris mentioned it had come up in an earlier post but had either been dismissed or overlooked. Potential here?
3. I like the ‘post organic’ idea – we should maybe develop this.

Prime Directive:
There is a need to explain, internally among the creators of the shared world, what it is.

I agree that we should establish Writer’s Guidelines/Rules in order to give us a framework for what we can and cannot do. Also, Chris can act as Gatekeeper then the rest of us can begin to fill in the details with him. Also, the timeline requires to be proposed.

It’s moving on gentlemen.
As Julian Cope once said, “I Come From Another Planet, Baby.”

Christopher Fletcher said...

The following remarks are from Corey Beasom, a writer who has a story coming in a couple months in M-Brane and who has a link to his own blog in the writers links on this page. He was having technical trouble accessing comments here, so I am pasting this from an email....

First of all, cool idea for a project!

1) I like the idea of using aether to facilitate space travel, off world civilizations, etc. To me this makes sense because it was a concept that people at the time actually believed in (e.g., the Greeks' fifth element), and it also allows for more incredible feats to be accomplished using less advanced technology. Interplanetary travel might be accomplished in balloons or zeppelins, then, or something like the Tower of Babel might become a kind of space elevator.

2) In general, I think I would try to limit how far technology actually advances; in my mind, it's more fun to imagine different means people might come up with to accomplish amazing things (think stuff like da Vinci's helicopter) using the technology available to them. If I were doing this myself, I probably wouldn't go much past experimenting with gunpowder. That way, you could have things like cannons or maybe even primitive rockets (that would constantly be having disastrous problems), but still be able to keep a lot of the steampunk flavor that would make this world especially interesting. As far as computing, I might take the route of something massive and steam powered, a la The Baroque Cycle or Gibson's and Sterling's The Difference Engine. Putting in stuff like advanced computers, nuclear technology, robotics, etc. seems like it might be just a little bit over the top, especially if you want to keep other societal/governmental/ideological structures intact as we understand them now.

3) Why not use the gods as the source of the spark that leads to advancement? Maybe they really are (as has been proposed numerous times before) some kind of alien beings, or you could go the route of something extra-dimensional like Cthulhu and the Great Old Ones. That way you're still working within the framework of existing mythology. Their presence is ubiquitous across civilizations, so you'd have no problems explaining their existence either. It might even be fun to leave their origins somewhat ambiguous, and just show them occasionally running into some leading figure of the day and saying, "Hey, have you ever thought about doing this?"

Okay, that should do it for now. I guess if I was going to summarize my thoughts, I'd say that I fall into the camp (or am creating my own camp) of trying to minimize wholesale changes to the world, and instead imagining what might happen if some (or all) of the things that the ancients believed about the world and the universe were actually true.

Christopher Fletcher said...

You guys are adding some interesting thoughts. I am going to wait until tomorrow after Day Job to say much else--my mood declined wildly as the evening went on and I don't want that to influence anything. Anyway, I'll just add quickly that I am intrigued by a lot of what has been added today but haven't absorbed it all yet. And yes, I'll be happy to be "gate keeper" or whatever on the writers guidelines when we get to that point. When we have things pretty well decided upon, I was think it would be good--even necessary--to create a document that lays out all the history and "rules" etc. It can be put online on a site or in a Box folder or somewhere so whomever wants it can access it and refer to it, sort of like a TV show "bible."

Keep talking, y'all, and I will get back on it tomorrow (Saturday) evening and probably have some comments or additions to what's been added today.

derekjgoodman said...

I love the idea of historical figures as aliens watching over it all, but I kind of think "Jesus was really a (fill in the blank)" has been kind of overdone. What about some of the famous Greek philosophers? Aristotle, Plato, Socrates?

Nithska said...

Chris, when you are prepared to set up guidelines, I will read what you have and make a proposed timeline, then we can haggle over that/ modify it.,..

Rick Novy said...

I suspect if Jesus is born in this universe at all, he would only be a simple carpenter.

My take on the aliens, which incorporate some of the previous ideas.

Several different alien races have set up scientific outposts on Earth for whatever alien reasons they have. There are x number of known intelligent races in the universe, all are advanced. Alas, somebody discovers race x+1 (humans) but they are so primitive that they are not a threat. Instead, they are used as a social laboratory. That is, until they realize that they have let the violent genie out of the bottle and there is no putting it back. Ultimately, we become the threat they thought we weren't (late in the alt history, like 21st century of alt-timeline.)

In one or more cases, humans discover the outposts and, being humans, decide they want some of the fun toys for themselves. So, rather than having the humans receive gifts of technology, we instead take it. Not only that, we don't completely understand it. We understand enough to make some workable copycat devices, but not as small or reliable as actual alien artifacts.

Maybe one alien group upgrades the tech of another human group to keep a balance of power. We can have one major human empire on each continent and one alien race each. Or, to make things even more interesting, maybe China and Japan are both armed by the same aliens as an experiment and are fighting themselves to extinction.

One thing I would request is that we drop the Star Trek-ism of Prime Directive.

Neil said...

I like some of Rick's ideas and the idea of the humans taking instead of receiving (a bit like we do here on Earth!) the technology will lead to further conflict.

Historical figures as aliens, apart from Jesus, could work - I think if it is used sparingly then the effect might be better achieved, rather than have droves of aliens living amongst us. If we only had one, say Socrates for instance, then I imagine the story arcs would work better.

alexbone17 said...

Hi Folks

I like the idea of using mythic gods and goddess as the archetypes of past alien invaders/helpers. I also thing that keeping it closer to a steampunk feel, will require people to be more inventive and will be a lot more fun.

Christopher Fletcher said...

Ok, just got home from work and have just scanned over the comments above. I haven't fully studied it all yet, but here's a couple off-the-cuff reactions/opinions;

--I concur with Rick that we might want to stay away from a lot Star Trekiness, such as the "Prime Directive." I'd also like to avoid time travel as a major device if at all possible. I'm not always down on it, but it's such a mainstay of Star Trek that it's what I always first think of.

--I think I dig Rick's idea of the humans stealing tech or even kind of getting the upper hand over the aliens rather than the aliens being some sort of vastly powerful beings that are watching over humanity and manipulating events like gods. Even if any of the aliens had that in mind, I think it would more interesting if it didn't work out for them as planned because of human unpredictability and general wildness. I also like the idea of the existence of the aliens being something that is well known by these people rather than a hidden conspiracy.

--A couple thoughts about use of well-known historical figures: not sure how into the idea of these figures being themselves aliens or super-beings I am. Also, I think we should be pretty judicious with the use of such real historical figures as far as plausibility. The way I see it, when the divergence happens from our real world history, then everything probably changes from that point. So if the divergence is in, say, 500 BC, then I doubt that 500 years later there is even going to be people like Julius Caesar or Jesus or Caligula--there may be people like that, but not those actual people in those same roles. It's also kind of Star Trekky to assume that everyone that we know of is still there in the alternate timeline, but just altered or in different roles somehow. While I love the classic Trek episode "Mirror, Mirror," it depicts a rather preposterous concept of an alternate timeline where all the trappings and people of the "real" universe are present down to the last detail (except their uniforms look a little bit different, Spock has a beard, etc.) Think of it this way: in our real world, a little more than 40 years ago, Bobby Kennedy was running for President. It appeared nearly certain that he would defeat VP Humphrey in the fight for the Democratic Presidential nomination and then face Nixon in the 1968 election. Had he not been assassinated, it is very likely that he would have defeated Nixon and been the President of the US. Had it happened that way, not only would all our political and foreign affairs history been changed in a major way, little things would have changed as well. A butterfly effect: maybe RFK's election would have somehow changed some little detail of how and when my parents met and married and had a kid. Even if they still married and had a kid, maybe the conception of that child would have happened at a slightly different moment...and that kid would not be me. So I guess what I'm saying is that if we use a lot of historical figured that existed after the point of the timeline divergence, then we ought to think about how to have it makes sense and not just have them be Spocks with beards.

All I got right now. I'll think of some later, I'm sure.

kaolin fire said...

I like option 2c: 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?

I'd say yes--some native life--but nothing we accept as sentient. This is especially cool if it means we get to mix golden era sci-fi stuff with more serious science.

Don't like the aether idea unless someone can really convince me of it, and that goes into redefining physics some, I think. Which could be very cool, by my physics-fu are not strong enough.

I like this: Maybe the spat of alien contacts (I suggest a few instances of contact) are race #1 fleeing from race #2 and by doing a bit of tech uplift they are essentially trying to put a 'tiger' between them.

I'm ok with them being "gods" so long as they aren't constantly meddling ~ I'd rather have the humans "uplifted" and the "gods" ran away long ago with us masking their trail. This spells Big Doom coming--a reason for some other space superpower to come after us.

I'm also ok with humans being a social experiment of sorts, but don't entirely believe the idea of us overtaking the extremely technologically superior. It just doesn't happen... anyone examples in our own timeline that I'm not aware of would be appreciated.

I don't really like the idea of major historical figures being these aliens. I think these aliens should change those things.

For some very cool space-faring meso-american sci fi, see T. L. Morganfield's "Night Bird Soaring" in GUD (full story available for free at the moment) ~

Also in the "magic" vein, I would edge towards wanting to allow (wanting to be allowed) magic realism, so long as it doesn't interfere with the plausibility of the rest of the world (i.e. nothing so powerful that people in general would know about it, nothing that would get dissected ~ myths, beliefs, maybes, hidden things).

derekjgoodman said...

A couple other things I've been thinking:

1)Rick's comment about Jesus got me thinking about the religious angle. In a universe where there has been alien contact and there are colonies on another world, religion may have evolved into something completely different than what we know of now. Maybe monotheism never caught on, or completely new pantheons became the basis for beliefs on Mars and Venus.

2)Even a terraformed Venus (or possibly Mars) would likely still be a harsh environment, and any culture that develops in the colonies there would reflect this. Perhaps the cultures on these planets would be more war-like or distrustful than the main Egyptian/Greek/Meso-American/whatever empires. Maybe they have issues with resources that would cause them to attack other colonies or such, perhaps in a pirate/viking like manner.

Christopher Fletcher said...

Re: Derek's comment 1 immediately above...yeah, good thinking, I concur.

Re: Kaolin's comments: I, for one, am fine with the "living" Mars and Venus concept..doesn't seem to be a lot of momentum toward that so far, but we'll see what anyone else may say. I guess my problem is that I like all 3 of the planet ideas so far and remain hesitant to come out strongly for one over the other right now...Regarding your magic/magic realism thought: though I favor a rational universe, I have no objection to blurring the line a bit where it can be made at least arguably rational within the "rules" of the world. We may end up wanting to go with some things (like living Mars, for example) that really are not plausible in OUR real world but we can always just decide that they are so in this fictional world and, if necessary, invent out of whole cloth the "science" that makes it work. I'd rather not see us get way into out-and-out sorcery-type stuff though.

Christopher Fletcher said...

A couple miscellaneous notes:

1) I've heard some complaints that posting comments here is either difficult or doesn't work reliably for some people...not sure what the problem is, but I have changed the comments settings so that no ID is needed (ie. it will accept "anonymous" comments now). If this works without us getting all spammed out, I'll leave it that way and we'll see if it works better for people. I do think, however, that anyone with Google, AIM, Wordpress, Livejournal (which should be nearly everyone on Earth by now) should have no trouble anyway. Hmm.

2) I'm signing off for night and I am at day job again tomorrow (Sunday). I am going to let this thread run through tomorrow and then, maybe on Monday, I will do another new recap post and maybe re-steer the discussion into areas where we seem to be need it most. I'm pretty excited about what we have so far considering it's only been a few days. Keep in mind, too, that this is a process that probably SHOULD take a little bit of time, and that we shouldn't expect a finished product super quickly. But the progress so far is pretty great.

Derek J. Goodman said...

Just to let you know, I've had trouble every time I've posted. The first time I try to post it won't let me, then when I try again it will.

Nithska said...

Kaolin asked for it so I am going to make one last hurrah for the ether idea. If this fails, then it should probably be stricken definitively to help us move forward.

One, I really dig the idea of the universe working a little more like what these cultures expected, sort of similar to Vinge's Zones of Thought in Fire Upon the Deep, but in this case, just the concept of the ether. It meshes with the theme.

Two, if we go with laws of physics unchanged but an extra habitable planet or two in the solar system, then we essentially need to bring these societies up to and past current day tech to get them to these places. And that just is less interesting to me. I think it's Thomas Harlan who has an alternate history of Aztec spacefarers, and there are a lot of echoes of Egypt in several sf worlds. My thought is that by positing either the ether/gas torus/ veil, etc., we can allow truly low tech travel between worlds within the ether that still has a plausible feel.

Three, so much of the fabric of space opera and steampunk are just not workable in a rigorously realistic space setting... but in a zero-g atmosphere, all those dog fights and low-fi solutions suddenly make some sense. Icarus legions fly on patrols across the maria of the moon. Egyptian longboats make the arduous journey from the L5 oasis and out to the amor apollos. The first successful (but not first attempted) circumnavigation of the earth's orbit around the sun reveals the alien fleet holding station on the far side of the sun. So forth.

Anyway, like I say, if no one else feels it, then let this idea die, but I wanted to put it out there one last time.

RE magic realism, I think esp when writing from greek/egyptian POVs, even when we understand the sfnal rationale of a thing, the characters will experience stuff in a way that feels more fantastic than SF... or maybe in the early stories, as they grapple with their understanding of a world changing around them.

L bought two books 'A travel guide to ancient greece/egypt' and though they are 'history lite' I'm finding some good info. I will post any thing that might be useful as I come across it. So far, I am surprised to find that for women, generally speaking, Egypt was the better place in many ways over greece.

These civilizations had pasts at the time we are tentatively eying that stretch back so far into their past that people really thought there was a time when the god ruled their lands. Maybe they did, in our time line, and now there are these sporadic interventions/ contacts. Maybe characters come to question if the gods were ever really gods but they never really know if they were fact, myth, or aliens. This is an interesting existential crisis for these people and societies to experience.

I don't buy an alien jesus/buddha/socrates etc... but I DO buy visitations to these men, maybe (and I made exactly that sort of suggestion in one of my posts).

2 fold question: what are the base causes of the technology and societal changes necessary for the stories we want to write, and who are our aliens and why would they want to purposefully affect those changed. How certain can they be that this will be the result?

The Industrial Revolution article on wikipedia has a chart showing GDP throughout history. Interesting. Importance of printing press, feudalism coming to an end, and other debated factors are discussed.



Satans Puppet said...

Fun to read generally? oh kick me in the balls and call me Sally :)

Okay so I've had a browse through, well by that I mean I read the opening paragraph, skipped to a bit in the middle, read another line and then read Mr K's comment as we have mind melded before and became K-Pup a creative force never before seen in human existance.

So I was sat here thinking and it may not be related to anything you want to do at all but what if the earth was in it's final stages of life, global warming has ravaged the planet burning away three quarters of the globe. Those who have watched the human race are in turmoil, two factions... one moves in the final moments and evacuates the sizeable chunk of the human race to preserve a species.

The other faction totally peeved about the intrusion on this galactic event, the end of the human race take a hostile stance... you have your waring factions, you have the human race who could eventually get a vessel of their own and the means to build them from their saviours who appear to them as forms from the past.

Higher level 'friends' could appear as greek gods, historical icons where as plebs/drones/the average alien schmoe could appear in original form warts and all. The other side could always appear in their grotesque or ethereal form depending on who kicks off the thing.

It could be the beginning of something wonderful, space as a playground or the collonising of a new planet which would inhabit human life with little to no side effects :P

There's more but it's all a gargled plot from a scrambled brain :)

So many possibilities *hooks up to Mr Kfires brain and begins interface*

Had posted more views but I lost 'em when I tried to post the comment lol

Christopher Fletcher said...

Though a lot still needs to be worked through, I think that the overwhelming direction of the plan so far is the alternate history starting at that ancient point. I would say that the Puppet's remarks above suggest a much later start point. But there may be something to it that can be transplanted back into the earlier time frame, but probably not the "earth in its final stages of life" aspect. Unless we were to start over. But I'm assuming we're not.

Brandon makes a hell of an attractive argument for the ether plan. I guess I'll agree with him when he says that if still the case that no one else likes it, then we'll drop it. But..let's say we did want reconsider it. Would it be more palatable if it did not encompass all of space but was a phenomenon that hangs in a sphere around the Earth-Moon neighborhood (and is maybe "anchored" the the Earth somehow) maybe only as far out as the L2 point (about a million and half miles). Beyond that, the vacuum of space as we know it in the real world takes hold. So at some point in the centuries of developing tech, our people do indeed need to develop more conventional space travel in order to expand out to Mars and Venus. And maybe this ether sphere has something to do with the aliens. Just saying. This will probably satisfy no one, but I thought I'd make another pass at it since Brandon did.

Christopher Fletcher said...

One more thing: tomorrow I think I will try to do another synthesis and start a new thread based on one or two categories of stuff to figure out with the aim of starting movement out of the general talking phase and into actually establishing some "facts" about this world. So if anyone happens to get on here anymore this evening and really wants to register another "vote" for one idea over another or argue in favor of a particular detail, or try to get more specific about anything, or even suggest something new, then that would be great. I'm off from day job next couple of days, so I'll be spending a fair amount of time monitoring this and publishing M-BRANE 6 (watch for that maybe as soon as tomorrow).

Christopher Fletcher said...

I forgot to ever refer back to Brandon's idea of the printing press having been for some reason a much earlier innovation than it was in the real world. I like this idea a lot. It goes a long way toward making some other stuff plausible as far as the speed with which these people progress after the Divergence/Intervention. It would be wicked if, for example, the Egyptians had come up with some kind of movable type thing based on their heiroglyphics or something like that.

Nithska said...

I'll need to look in my book to get the names and dates, but there was a cult in Egypt that took hold especially during a certain Pharoah's reign which was essentially the first instance of monotheism, and some argue the source of the abrahamic religions. This might be good to use as contact confirmed #1 with, if we decide, the implication but unconfirmed earlier intervention leading to the printing press existing from early in history. For the Greeks, the concept of Logos should then be even more significant, along with the parallel concept among the Egyptians.

Christopher Fletcher said...

B, you might be looking for Akhenaten--father of Tut--who did indeed try to impose a kind of monethesim which was then abandoned after his death. But...if it WASN't abadoned, then that would have made things different. I'm not entirely sure if the religion that Akhenaten established was real monothesim (ie. "There IS only ONE God") or a kind of monolatrism (ie. "There may be other gods, but we worship THIS one exclusively"). It's thought that earliest Jews were more in that latter category, selecting Yahweh as their god while not necessarily rejecting the existence of other gods in the old pantheon. Then later it evolved into real monothesim where the other gods were jettisoned or turned into demons and angels and Satan and saints and what-not.

derekjgoodman said...

Based on Brandon's argument I think I'm willing to throw in with the Ether-ists. I like the idea of the ether cloud being only in a certain area of space concentrated around the Earth and moon, but maybe it does extend out as far as Mars and Venus, but only its thinner out there. That way travel to these planets and colonies could still be possible, but travel to them might be more dangerous. (I'm sort of thinking of the whole Kon-Tiki thing, where maybe most people don't believe its possible to travel out that far but some brave souls in rickety crafts made it that far purely out of luck).

Christopher Fletcher said...

Hmm. Derek's comments above may mark a major shift in momentum toward Etherism. I guess have two more questions: First, to Brandon, do you mind the ether, if we use it, being limited in its area as I suggested above or as Derek suggested slightly differently, or do you really want it to encompass the entire possible domain of these people? Second, to Rick and Kaolin and anyone else who may be in the Anti-Etherist Bloc: do y'all just really hate the idea a lot?

See, I am now envisioning a sort of Grand Compromise that allows us to use more than one of our super cool ideas: a) the ether sphere exists, probably has a good reason for its existence, but it is a relatively local phenomenon and kind of hems in the expansion of humans for a while during early space age as they figure out how to travel into normal space (yeah Kon-Tiki analogy cool, D; that could be a story right there); AND b) once they DO get our further into space they find that they need to terraform other planets and there they could employ Rick's big heaters and atmosphere generators and some really wicked "high tech" that's necessitated by the very different conditions outside the local Earth vicinity (and then at that point in history, they probably undergo a big cultural shift in how they understand and deal with the universe--gets less "fantastic" and more rigorously scientific as they start to understand better the nature of their world and the solar system). Keep in mind, that we are talking about a timeline that is certainly many centuries if not millenia in duration, and a civilization that eventually extends off of the Earth, so there's a lot of room for a lot of stuff.

Rick Novy said...

Anti-ethering again. Venus and Mars could be terraformed by the aliens, who then abandoned them for some reason that we will likely discover in the telling of the stories. Between worlds, you have aline-constructed travel gates. the hard part is getting to the gates.

Neil said...

Anti-Ether: Hmm... I could switch sides to being for Etherism after reading the last few posts.
It seems that it is necessary for this to be in place as it keeps the domains/known universe relatively small, for the first age of the timeline, then as technology becomes more advanced and people become more aware, travel further afield becomes possible with each advancement where the discovery of new worlds/cultures etc also occurs.

Re. Rick Novy's idea of gates: I quite like this concept.

Brandon Bell said...

Chris, I think limiting the extent of the ether is actually a good idea. Again tho, whichever way we need to go, just let me know and I'll start brainstorming in that direction.

I am firm as a pro-etherist tho. :)

Re your last post, Rick, I think this is a cool idea but object to it on one point: what with the Egyptian setting, farcaster/warp gates are just too close to Stargate for comfort. Though I know the trope has been around long before that.

Brandon Bell said...

btw, a compromise just struck me on the ether issue... what if this were a temporary phenomena where there is a 'first era' of exploration when the ether is thick and they can get to the moon ( and the other planets?) but it begins to dissipate so that they have to improvise and innovate to get to the same places, until the space situation is much like what we understand it to be in real life, but with maybe a tenuous atmo persisting on the moon, with or without efforts on our part.

Just thinking 'out loud' ...

All this would of course tie in with the alien goings on.

Christopher Fletcher said...

Re Rick's last post: I wouldn't mind if it were the case that those other planets had been terraformed aliens (it would sort achieve the "living worlds" idea but without them having been that way all along). I'd need a lot of convincing on gates, though, for the same reason as Brandon. Though neither the alien terraforming or the gates is necessarily incompatible with etherism (or the limited version of it that I proposed earlier). We don't need to solve the ether debate today, but I want to highlight a couple things that Brandon said that started getting off the fence on it:

[Brandon]: One, I really dig the idea of the universe working a little more like what these cultures expected, sort of similar to Vinge's Zones of Thought in Fire Upon the Deep, but in this case, just the concept of the ether. It meshes with the theme.

[Brandon]: Three, so much of the fabric of space opera and steampunk are just not workable in a rigorously realistic space setting... but in a zero-g atmosphere, all those dog fights and low-fi solutions suddenly make some sense.

and then, what got me thinking that there might be life in a Limited Ether premise...

[Brandon]: I think esp when writing from greek/egyptian POVs, even when we understand the sfnal rationale of a thing, the characters will experience stuff in a way that feels more fantastic than SF... or maybe in the early stories, as they grapple with their understanding of a world changing around them.

Which made me think that in the Limited Ether world, there would come a point where civilization needs (perhaps rather suddenly) to have another technological revolution in order to expand deeper into the solar system. And this ether thing could certainly be something to do with the aliens and not even a natural phenomenon at all.

Christopher Fletcher said...

Brandon: yeah if the ether gradually dissipated over centuries, you could have scenario where they have to go to artificial means (atmosphere generator) to keep the Moon habitable--kind of analogous to some of the more wild ideas that people have had to reduce global warming on Earth, like covering the arctic ice cap in reflective foil, etc. So, you could have in this one alternate history a sort of Ether Age for a few centuries that kind of gives way to a different sort of Space Age.

Christopher Fletcher said...

On a non-Ether topic, I wanted to highlight again something that Rick said about alien intervention:

"Several different alien races have set up scientific outposts on Earth for whatever alien reasons they have. There are x number of known intelligent races in the universe, all are advanced. Alas, somebody discovers race x+1 (humans) but they are so primitive that they are not a threat. Instead, they are used as a social laboratory. That is, until they realize that they have let the violent genie out of the bottle and there is no putting it back. Ultimately, we become the threat they thought we weren't (late in the alt history, like 21st century of alt-timeline.)

"In one or more cases, humans discover the outposts and, being humans, decide they want some of the fun toys for themselves. So, rather than having the humans receive gifts of technology, we instead take it. Not only that, we don't completely understand it. We understand enough to make some workable copycat devices, but not as small or reliable as actual alien artifacts."

However the details shake out on the alien thing, I want to say one more time that I like a lot of what Rick suggests more than I like ideas where aliens are all-powerful overlords running human affairs from behind the scenes. Another possibility: by the time the timeline of our universe starts, the aliens maybe aren't even around anymore at all but their influence/artifacts remain and continue having a tech impact on Earth. So it would be an established fact known to humans generally that there are ET civilizations, but they don't much about them. A feeling lingers that they are still around somewhere or may come back, but they are not usually present.

alexbone17 said...


I also like the idea of humans being more in the dark about things. Mars, the moon, and Venus could be made habitable by these aliens and then abandoned. I feel this would create more of a mystery and exploritory feel. Even much of the tech could be complex and not completely understood. Again this would add to a more steampunk 'jerry-rigged' feel to their tech.

derekjgoodman said...

I don't have much else to add right now other than I like Brandon's idea of an ether that eventually goes away (and I'd like to point out that this doesn't invalidate my thin ether area/Kon-Tiki exploration angle, just adds another twist to it) and I could get behind Rick's ideas about the alien races elevating humans and then regretting it later.

Nithska said...

Also props to Derek who originally suggested to historical angle we've pursued.

Rick Novy said...

I can live with ether, butI suggest we seriously consider what it is. M-Brane SF is a science fictin magazine and that's what the readers expect. If the ether is really a dense cloud of air-like molecules, then there are ramifications.. Dense in the cosmic sense is still something that we would consider to be a vacuum.

But, if such a dense cloud did pass through solar space, the cloud would likely have some accumulations that might one day form planets and stars.

While it would be catastrophic to have another star pass through the solar system, a protoplanet might solve that problem because a protoplanet is far denser than any nebula. Plus, the gravitational influence of the protoplanet and more distant protostar might be enough to shift the orbits of Mars and Venus closer to Earth.

There--ether is not so magical after all.

derekjgoodman said...

Protoplanets in our solar system- whoa. That could get interesting.

I would suggest, however, that the protoplanet/protostar/whatever not be dealt with immediately, but later in the timeline. Say for example the aliens left the ether behind as part of "lifting us up" to use against other aliens. They would probably know the kind of damage or impact that would have on the solar system, but don't really care. The ramifications could then be dealt with later on, as perhaps humans realize that this cloud that has allowed them easy space travel is starting to have bad ramifications.

Nithska said...

This is from left field, but thought about GRRM's nightflyers and if maybe a creature such as is seen at the end of the story might birth its offspring in a created atmo like we are talking about, so that it is a natural phenomena being maintained by the mommy creature which would be huge and probably devouring our protoplanet.

This is totally not what we've been talking about but I was just thinking how to rationalize the ether and this occured to me.


Rick Novy said...

I've never read GRRM so I have no idea what that is.


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