Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Things ran late today, and I guess I am not doing any kind of big re-cap or synthesis of this discussion with this post, as I had planned.  More than anything else right now, I am trying to start another sequence of comments before the previous thread gets too long to read. For reminders of what we have discussed and what it's all about (especially for anyone who is just joining the discussion), refer back to the earlier posts. This one and those can be called up together using the "Shared World" tag at the end of this post. I will eventually start compiling a more orderly guide to what has been put forth for discussion.

Some major developments have happened, however, that I think can be declared to be Established Facts about our shared world:  

1) The timeline begins somewhere when Egypt is a major civilization, and so other civs will be determined with reference to that, though Greece and China are almost certainly in it. We also like Aztecs or at least some kind of meso-American civ. Does anyone know offhand where their dates fall in?  A topic for more research for sure; 

2) Over time, these people become space-faring, multi-world civs; the Moon, Mars and Venus are all inhabited at some point (with the Moon certainly first, but also due to the "ether" situation (see item 4 below));

3) The technological divergence happens in large part due to some some level or manner of alien influence, though the details need to be discussed more; 3a) These people may have just somehow had some tech earlier than what happened in the real world, such as the printing press, even without alien help; we like this because mass-literacy is aided by it;

4) their physical space is different than what we know: a cloud of gas, which we have been referring to as "ether," hangs around the immediate neighborhood of Earth, at least in the earlier centuries of the timeline. Its properties are rather amazing and cool: something like air pressure, it's breathable, and is also a zero-g environment once you get away from Earth's gravity well. It has been proposed and decided that this is a local phenomenon that does not exist very far beyond the Earth-Moon area and is somehow attached to the Earth, so that it moves through space with it as the Earth orbits the Sun. It could be a thing of originally alien origin, or not. As I write this there is another line of ether-related thought cropping up on the  previous post (see Rick and Derek and Brandon's remarks re: "proto-planet"). Also it has been proposed and probably generally agreed to that this ether phenomenon dissipates gradually for some reason as the centuries pass, possibly necessitating climate control measure on the Moon.

5) We seem to be in agreement, or at least with a majority opinion, moving against famous historical figures being aliens. We're still early in the discussion of exactly what the alien deal is, but seem to all agree that there is an alien factor that is important.

So maybe let's talk some more about aliens. Also, any kind of society-related thoughts might be good.

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Anonymous said...

Are we all in agreement that there are at least two types of aliens? One that does some stuff to advance the human race, and a second that the first race is fleeing from? Or did we want to start looking at some other ideas for them?

If there are two races, then we need to look at who they are, what they're like, and what they're capable of. The first would obviously have to be capable of giving humans the technological bump needed to set things in motion, but would they really expect humans to do much against the second race? If they're fleeing the second race, then any tech they can give obviously can't be of much use or else the first race would just use it themselves. Or maybe there's something unique about humans that would give us the advantage?

Another possible flaw in the "first race puts humans between them and the second race" idea is "Why doesn't the second race just go around?" Maybe there's some limit to the second race's travel technology. Also, the human race would need plenty of time to develop before they could be of any use against the second race, so why is it taking so long for the second race to get here? This could again be due to limits in their travel abilities. Maybe the second race is superior to the first in size or war-making ability but the first is superior in space travel, like they have FTL capabilities. Maybe the FTL capabilities are the reason the second race is after the first, and the first doesn't want to give it for some reason.

Just some thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Re. Christopher's comments:

1. I'm in agreement with Egypt being the major civilisation and think that Greece and China are in the mix somewhere. Also, I personally have a hankering for the Aztecs or similar being there too.

2. The moon has to be the first to be colonised due to the limitations of the 'ether' and, depending on how we work out the timeline, then Mars and Venus etc can be terraformed/colonised/explored (or maybe there are civs on them but due to the limits of the tech in the early stages, we are not aware of their presence).

3. Aliens play a large part in the advancement of technology and (RE. Derekjgoodman's post, there is a lot to work out with the aliens.)
Can the second race of aliens be some sort of splinter group/rogue element which have split from the parent thus giving us two warring factions?
Maybe the first race lose some of the great minds to the second race which leaves them faltering in their advancement and they tie in with the aliens to suppress the threat of the second race?

Th human race will require time to develop - the second race moved off their world, suffered some cataclysmic event which (although they have the vast bulk of intelligent 'beings') leaves them stagnant for an age before once again becoming a force?

4. The 'ether' theory seems to be the one we are all plumping for and could be restrictive thus giving the race time to develop their technology before moving further afield.

5. The types of aliens: I am formulating some thoughts but at this stage, do we need to define look etc or are we just aiming for a general idea of what they are like?

Society - there is a lot to think about! Obviously we need rulers, the masses and the oppressed but as to what kind of society, are we looking to base a model on the systems on this planet ? Dictatorship, Democratic etc.

Some thoughts.

Anonymous said...

RE: Societies

Everyone seems to agree that Egypt is a power player, as well as a few others. Egypt will obviously look very much the ancient Egypt we all know to start with, but as time goes on and technology and such develops it would have to become different in many ways. A society developing this quickly and over the large amount of time we propose will eventually not be recognizable as the same one that started. Same goes for whatever other civilizations we use. Certain core values of the societies will be consistant, however. Think of the US or Britain. Neither resembles the way they were two hundred years ago, but building blocks remain.

Democratic societies, I think, wouldn't come until later in the cycle. Most would likely start as monarchies (as that's where most of our candidate societies are starting out).

The moon, I think, would be a prime candidate for some sort of revolution at some point and the beginnings of a democracy, sort of mirroring the initial development of the US.

Would the initial first contact be a world wide thing or would the aliens only initiate contact with a certain society? This would greatly affect the way each society develops. Also, things could change depending on how the first contact actually happens: do the aliens come down and give tech to these societies, or do they just throw it down and let every scrabble for it? These posibilities could lead to wars at the very beginning before real development even begins.

Anonymous said...

Alien contact: I prefer the initial contact with a certain society

And the throw-down of tech - I like that idea. It certainly would lead to a free for all and war would erupt.

I think like derekjgoodman regarding the moon playing a pivotal point in the universe we are creating.

Rick Novy said...

Regarding aliens, to me less is more. The less we see the aliens, the more effective they will be. I prefer them to almost never be on-screen.

Getting back to the protoplanet ether, there is some built-in restriction. You could have atmosphere between Earth and Moon, as well as Mars and Venus if the proto-objects shifted the orbits.

The beauty of a slow-moving proto-planet being the source of oxygen is that the earth and moon will move in and out of the ether as it orbits the sun. That leaves a fairly well-defined travel season. Similarly, Venus and Mars travel would be very limited because it would have to occur during conjunctions that happen during travel season. That would probably happen only once or twice a century.

Anonymous said...

RE: Less is more aliens

I'm starting to agree. We've already got a massive number of ideas for our universe, and that's even before we start fleshing it out. Not only would off-screen aliens be more intriguing (and their lack of presence could make them easier fodder for religions among humans), but it could also keep us more focused on the humans and their development.

Brandon said...

I 'third' the suggestion to keep aliens mostly 'offscreen'. Also, Rick's idea of limiting the ether in this way is ingenious. I like this a lot. It would mean that treks to mars and venus during would be one way affairs for any given character. and trips to the moon seasonal.

The trips to Venus and Mars would probably be singular or limited events, allowing for divergent cultures and storylines riffing off the ERB school of planetary adventure.


What if the oxygen-producing planetoid is a natural phenomena with an ecosystem of free-fall flora and fauna, the whole thing hibernating between stars and blooming when in a star-system. Maybe the alien uplift occurs because they are just trying to give us a chance to react to the planetoid, which often has adverse effects on native life.

Brandon said...

Another maybe: could the planetoid come in close to the Earth's Roche Limit on each of its passes by us, thereby giving a helping hand into orbit for our human societies. Maybe it will eventually tear the earth apart eventually instead of the other way around. Another one from left field since I don't know how the earth ppls would counter such a course of events, other than to be smart enough to migrate a fair amount of the populace to mars and venus.

Anyway, just some spare ideas.

Rick Novy said...

Brandon, the earth would be passing the proto-planet since the proto-planet would not be orbiting our star, but its protostar. Ultimately, the interaction between the two star systems would have to be catastropic in terms of orbital mechanics. The protoplanet might be captured by the sun or ripped free of both. The outer plants like Jupiter might be thrown out of our solar system or given highly eccentric orbits that might bring them into travel range of earth.

I also think that seeding life into the protoplanet's accretion disk is asking a little too much of the people who have to suspend disbelief.

Brandon said...

Ah, sorry, I wasn't reading closely enough and mentally thinking of a rogue planet. Might that be a scenario that would fit better into our plan, insofar as not doing too much destruction to sol system?

Rick Novy said...

Well, the destruction might be what enables interplanetary travel since we could argue that it pushed the planets closer together.

Anonymous said...

I suggest that everyone summarize ether scenarios they can think of --the more the better--, and then let's kick the tires and make our purchase so we can move on.

so, here's what I've thought of today:
Starseed Scenario: A rogue 'planet' enters the solar system and begins massively outgassing atmosphere, so that by the time it settles into a slow and extremely eliptical orbit, it has pulled mars inward a bit and now has a tear-shaped tail of atmoshere the head of which brushes the earth as the planet passes us extremely near our roche limit sucking up a bit of our atmosphere as it passes each time, and the tail stretching out to mars. Conceivably the planet could migrate in to reach venus during part of its orbit, but perhaps we want it to be more stable, which would restrict it to earth.

motivation of our unseen (mostly) aliens: they are post organic intelligences, who seek to preserve organic intelligence in the hopes they will develope and add to the galactic community. They know the starseed will eventually suck earth of its atmo and destroy our civilization, if some earthlife might be able to continue as refugees on the starseed.

The starseed itself may be a lifeform and does have a retinue of what might be considered its young. It is not intelligent (or is it?) and its actions are no more malevolent than a hurricane or other natural disaster.

critique: this is not the hard SF scenario.

benefits: meets all of our basic desires. Gives us something big for our heroes to deal with. And I can imagine all kinds of ways it could affect society. Some may set off to kill it. Others to worship it. Still others may be happy to leave earth behind and set off for venus or mars.


The 'Just is' scenario: at some point, we passed into an endless sky and endless clouds. Our characters don't know why and they never find out. At some point well into their history they start to realize it is thinning and they have a second race where more modern type tech is created. So this would have our 'early era' with all the cool steampunk and bronze punk scenarios, but either the mid or last section stories would have to evolve to deal with space as we know it, though maybe with habitable moon, venus, mars.

Benefits: the mystery of this scenario is cool. We as writers can speculate as can our characters, but no single explanation is ever declared canonical. It meets all our requirements without having to figure out a lot of difficult science speculation.

critique: if we desire hard sf, this may seem a cop out. my thought is that I can more for consistency and a sense of plausibility, as opposed to a rigorous scientific rationale. But it is a valid complaint.


There are more that I can think of but here are a couple at least... what ideas do you all have/ what are your thoughts?


Christopher Fletcher said...

I can't believe I haven't jumped in on this all day...I've been having trouble functioning for some reason. Anyway, a few thoughts:

1. It's taken me a few minutes to "get" Rick's protoplanet concept, but I think it's pretty cool and offers a pretty fancy scientific rationale for the ether situation. I would like to see a diagram of what the solar system looks like under this plan so I can understand it more completely...maybe I'll try to make one myself. But yeah, the protoplanet being the source of the atmosphere, the Earth/Moon passing in and out of it and the orbits of the planets being changed so that they are all closer together all sounds viable.

2. Brandon's suggestion of the "Just Is' scenario has some appeal in that we do not have to figure out all this science right off, and it doesn't really run counter to any of the other ideas. But I think I might rather we know more at least for purposes of the writers guidelines so that people aren't coming up with bizarre things that are really far away from our vision, whatever that finally ends up being.

3. On aliens: I agree completely with the "less is more" approach and keeping them mostly "off screen". As I've said before, I'm not a fan of having all human civilization being some of game/ experiment/ conspiracy by Overlords. At the moment, however, I have no strong views on the questions of whether there is one or more species or what it/they are like. Brandon said something somewhere about "post-organic" life, but I can't find it now..,maybe it was on the last post. That sounded like something promising. Also, I think the weirder the better is good for aliens.

5) Government and society: I like the idea that Rick suggested back at the beginning that maybe the civs retain their ancient structures (pharaohs, dynasties, etc.) but they would probably evolve and change over time, as Derek notes in his comparison of Britain and US now versus 200 years ago. I could imagine a Greek empire building on the ideas of Athenian democracy and expanding that through their sphere of influence. Also, I like how we have been planning since day one a situation where there are a number of centers of power in the world and not a single One World Government. I could imagine, however, there maybe some transnational entities, maybe companies or cartels that evolve over time and exert a lot of power in the off-world colonies.

That's all I can think of right now. I am off again from day job tomorrow and I may try to start compiling some sort of chart of our ideas. When I do this (not PROMISING tomorrow, but maybe), I will place it in a shared folder on box so that people can get at it. This will maybe be the nucleus of the eventual writers guide.

Rick Novy said...

I can try to put together a diagram, but I am also preparing to moderate several panels for Westercon, which starts thursday.

Christopher Fletcher said...

Rick: A diagram (when you have time to get around to it) would be great, and would probably help everyone get a better handle on how the protoplanet scenario works.

I think we're getting closer to a real plan on the whole space travel/ether business, and it's been great hearing everyone's cool ideas.

I am right now working on a chart-like thing summarizing where we are--not sure how useful it will be, but it may keep us from having to look back through 60 or 80 comments to recall the gist of things. When it's done, I will put it up on Box and link to it in the next new Shared World post so y'all can download it or read it online. I may also Tweet about it and try to invite some other people in. At this point, I think we're well past establishing the essential premise of the world, so I don't necessarily think we need a lot of new writers suggesting things entirely unlike what we have laid out so far. That being said, I think some additional voices could be of benefit in helping us refine things and generate some new details. And, of course, we know a lot of other writers that I bet will be interested in writing new fiction in the shared world once we've established it, but maybe aren't that interested in being in on this early phase of it.


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