Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Undersea Aesthetics

The World So Far: An uncharted and largely oceanic world, dotted by islands and coastlines, full of strange wonder, abundant resources and tropical beauty. An incoming force of humans, from a number of distinct 16th century-feeling cultures, have voyaged to this strange place to begin colonization and eventual exploitation of these resources. The local inhabitants, however, are all entirely aquatic, dwelling deep beneath the waves and quite unsure how to react to the presence of these foreign colonists.

Upon further reflection, I may be approaching the order-of-events here somewhat bassackwardsly.

Aesthetics are all well and dandy, in general, but I'm beginning to feel there are great number of decisions to be made before I can settle on something as trivial as clothing and costume. I think, today, I'm going to focus more keenly on the general conceit behind these undersea kingdoms and see whether or not that answers my questions, more or less.

To recap: Last week, I settled on the notion that the Colonists (let's institute that capital C early) were vaguely European feeling, corresponding approximately with the colonial adventurers of countries like Spain, France, Portugal and England as they put down stakes in the New World. The Spanish conquistador was held up as the ideal toward which to strive, the stipulation was made that the Colonists are a comparatively recent addition to this world and the possibility of an egalitarian society was discussed.

The obvious corollary, then, for these underwater civilizations seems to be the Mesoamerican cultures of Maya, Olmec, Aztec and Inca. Advanced, distinctly alien in the eyes of incoming European and possessed of a rich tapestry of culture and tradition, they would seem the likely candidate. As stated above, however, I'd rather delve a little deeper into their actual concept before stabling a real world parallel onto them.

For one thing, I'd rather not project the idea that these underwater civilizations are prone to immediate destruction at the hands of disease, superior technology and imperialism by the Colonists. In fact, I'm amused by the idea that the Kingdoms (see what I did there?) cannot quite decide whether the Colonists are a genuine threat, perhaps because the humans, for the most part, only interested in the land. As their realms exist exclusively under the ocean and, one imagines, a good depth beneath the waves, its conceivable the two societies could peacefully co-exist.

For contrast, imagine if an alien force arrived on earth and was exclusively interested in occupying the planet's freshwater lakes and rivers, with no interest in any of the terra firma all around them.

What kind of relationship would they develop, then, as opposed to a strictly adversarial one? Would feelings of xenophobia and hatred still arise between Colonist and Kingdom? Would they find some sticking point – fishing and pollution both occurred to me just now – that they'd manufacture this grievance upon? Or, more likely, would their reaction be mixed? Some Colonists wish to ingratiate themselves with some of the Kingdoms, some Kingdoms wish to exterminate or drive off other Colonists and so forth.

It seems an important distinction to make that, by and large, these aren't unified groups. I could see the various Kingdoms having some apparatus in place of international diplomacy, effectively, but I hardly think they're of one mind. No, I think, much like the Colonists, these need to be distinct cultures and kingdoms, divided by creed, philosophy and politics as much as simple geography.

The Mesoamerican model, in light of this, continues to sound vaguely appropriate, but there's another important distinction to make. I don't think I want a technology gap between the two cultures.

This is something I'm likely to discuss in more detail next week, but I think it's vastly more interesting if there's a disconnect in the types of technology the two cultures exhibit, but perhaps not a disparity in power levels. To continue the ongoing theme of the weirdness of this world and the Colonist's "fish-out-of-water" syndrome, I'd almost like the undersea kingdoms technology to appear practically as magic to these newcomers. Imagine – a civilization dwelling underwater would have zero use of gunpowder, steel and even fire. How would they go about defending themselves? Constructing their homes? Transportation, agriculture, innovation?

Additionally, I think the Kingdoms are anything but primitive. Not to suggest the Aztecs or Inca were in actuality, but they certainly were in the eyes of the Europeans. I'd rather the Colonists look upon these vast undersea kingdoms with awe and fear. I want the Colonists to feel they're trespassing on territory already occupied by a power much greater and much older than their own.

The more I describe them, the less these Kingdoms sound like Aztec or Incans. The vibe I'm getting is much more reminiscent of the Moorish empire in Spain or, better yet, Ancient China. This seemingly strange power, separated by a great distance (in this case vertical distance) with a technology as advanced, if not more advanced, than their own and with a culture distinctly alien to theirs.

I'm feeling stronger and stronger about this. Obviously, the point should be to keep the cultures as distinct as possible, but I think the benchmarks of Colonial Europe meets Ancient China provides an interesting contrast. I can run with this.

Next Wednesday on Worldblogger: Technology!

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