Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Undersea Races

The World So Far: The world is flat. On one side of disc is the exhaustively explored and urbanized home of humans, where cities, countries and nations vie for too little land to support their expanding populations. On the other side of the disc is 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 distinctly 15th century-feeling cultures, have sailed over the edge of their world and come to colonize the world below. Some have come to seek asylum, refuge or more converts to their maligned faith. Some have been exiled over, punished for crimes committed in the world above. Still, others come over to set down stakes in a new world, to exploit the natural resources and expand their conquest.

The new world's inhabitants, however, are four powerful undersea kingdoms, full of dynastic struggle, ancient tradition and military might. With cultures far older and far more intricate than those of the human colonists, the undersea kingdoms are as unprepared for this sudden clash of cultures as the unawares humans are.

One of the themes I'd like to play with, concerning the underside of the world, is that absolutely nothing, biologically, is replicated from the topside of the world. The trees are different, the birds are different, the sea life is different, pretty much everything. This, of course, would include the underside sentient inhabitants, as well, better known as the Kingdoms.

The biggest challenge with making an ultimatum like this is, however, is that, without Earthlike animals to draw from, my supply of quick analogs is virtually nil. Can't simply say they're dolphin or octopus people, dust my hands off and call the whole thing good. Gotta dig a little deeper.

A series I really respect for applying this rule, rather than simply using anthropomorphic animals, is Scott Sigler's GFL series. With the Quyth, the Ki and the Sklorno, you can really tell Sigler put in the time, crafting alien species that would, in this case, be ideal for playing football. There's no easy way to look at any of these races and make an immediate comparison. This is, to perhaps a somewhat less bizarre length, what I'd like to achieve with the People of the Kingdoms.

The first thing I'd like to establish as a primary difference are proportions. With no concept as to what, exactly, their anatomy will consist of, I like the idea they're on a different scale to humans. Rather than going the traditional fantasy route and the making the People smaller, I think I'll go bigger. Much bigger – more in line with Edgar Rice Burroughs' Green Men than anything else. (I keep citing aliens are inspiration). Let's say 10 feet. I think 10 feet, even assuming they can stand, is a good estimate.

Secondly, I always imagined their cities occupying the bottom of the ocean, so I wonder if they don't sport some manner of bioluminescence. They could obviously have lanterns and devices instead of or in addition to their own natural glow, but I kinda like the notion of some appendage, whose function is specifically to provide light. I mean, it's equally conceivable that they don't even require light to see, but assuming I want human adventurers (if this becomes a campaign setting) to visit these underwater cities, the more light the better.

The notion of a bioluminescent skeleton occurs, but I'm kinda stuck on this appendage idea. To borrow from some earthlike creatures in a very general way, I actually think an anglerfish-style angler, which dangles pendant over their heads might be cool. Maybe a little too similar to Avatar's weird sex ponytail.

Wait, instead – how about they have the ability to inspire luminescence in other things, like rocks and plants and even other animals, with a mere touch. That immediately makes several things fall quickly into place; different People might project different colors or patterns of light, like thumbprints, I could see bioluminescent art becoming huge for their culture and architecture and it would potentially give them a commodity that the Colonists would covet. Scientifically, it could be a bacteria that grows on their skin that attaches to foreign objects and glows briefly as it dies or something. The rules of how it works aren't especially important at this stage. What is important is glowing handprints and finger-painting.

Ten foot tall, glowy finger-painters. There's definitely more the plumb here, but perhaps it should be saved for another time? Let's do a Part Two. Lemme percolate on this a while. Any ideas? Feel free to comment.

Next Wednesday on Worldblogger: Undersea Races (Part Deux)!

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Colonist Cultures

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 distinctly 16th century-feeling cultures, have sailed over the edge of their flat world to arrive here, to begin colonization and eventual exploitation of these resources. The local inhabitants, however, are four powerful undersea kingdoms, full of dynastic struggle, ancient tradition and military might, and are quite unsure how to react to the presence of these foreign colonists.

Nearly forgot again. Not an encouraging sign.

This week, we're talking about the cultures of the various Colonists that've come to inhabit this new world. (Thought: What I really need is a world name, so I can stop shirking around it all the time. Knowing me, it'll probably end up with like, five goddamn names.)

In keeping the symmetry up, I think we'll go with three different Colonist cultures. Or, rather, let's say four, since I've decided I want four undersea Kingdoms. What makes the Colonists interesting and different from the Kingdoms is that they've all emigrated here, to the underside, for a particular reason and I think that reason would be a key way we could distinguish them from each other. Maybe one group is fleeing religious persecution, maybe another group is after resources, like a traditional conquistador, hell, maybe one group is actively seeking converts to their current faith.

I like the idea of combining those two notions, actually. Followers of a persecuted, misunderstood or even potentially sinister religious belief fled their established society on the disc's upper side and came to the underside, looking for a safe place to practice and, what's more, to preach. I like the idea that they're maybe not ethnically similar; people of various appearances and creeds have maybe converted to this Faith and joined the Exodus. (Note: Biblical language is cool there. Hell, the Exodus is a cool name for them. You know what else is cool? Bolding relevant nouns.)

Has the Exodus been successful in their attempt to convert any natives? My instinct is to say no, but I actually kinda like the idea that they have. Maybe some group (Kingdom B or, more interestingly, Kingdom D) has really taken to this strange foreign religion, the faith as spread in a big way.

That all came rather startling fast. I think we have one Colonist culture down. 

I think before we can advance, however, we should look at what the upper side of the disc thought of underside. Punishing criminals was my original thought – they assumed sailing over the edge of the world meant you were going to hell, Odysseus-style. However, if it was possible to simply flip, that creates an interesting situation on the disc's underside.

What happened to all those criminals, you might say?

Sure, many of them are maybe marooned hermits or straight-razor-wielding murderers, but I imagine they had children, particularly if the Colonial Powers have been punishing people in his way for a long time, centuries even. I think a civilization that's been trapped on this side of the disc, sent there against their will or descended from people sent there against their will is totally worthy of a culture.

They might as well be our pirates.

In watching a few episodes of Black Sails, the plotline I was most attracted to was the pseudo-political pirate democracy one, wherein a (extremely fictional) plucky nation of pirates and marauders attempt to fight the naval powers by preying on merchant ships and harming the colonial process. Imagine a civilization of raiders and pirates, disgusted at the sudden influx of the people who sent their ancestors over the falls to die, sailing around in the same funeral or prison barges they were pitched over in, swearing vengeance on the Colonists and forced to eke out a living without all the funding and resources. I think that's Colonial Culture B.

That leaves two more. One obvious choice seems to be the conquering nation, while the other would seem to be enterprising business. All my current ideas regarding these two are, I think, too stereotypical. I mean, there's probably some use of the Spanish Armada and the East India Trading Company, but I can't think of anything to separate them any. Hm. They could maybe be one power, but I don't know, that seems far too monolithically evil.

Explorers are also a possibility, but I can't imagine you'd end up with an entire explorer Culture. Plus, if we had people actively running amok, attempting to map everything, wouldn't they have mapped more things by now? No, I think the explorers are an underclass, the equivalent to artists in Elizabethan society, academics who want to learn more, want to create maps of this new land, but can't convince the powers that be to lend them the crews to do it unless they can convert some natives or mine some gold.

What about two warring nations? Rather than simply and an evil company? A sorta France and England vibe or, better yet, England and Spain – two large and powerful nations on the topside, attempting to put down stakes in this new world. I like this better; extremely superficial differences between them, possibly even geographical or political ones that only apply to the Old World, but enough to make them feel like bitter, bitter enemies. That's much better.

There does need to be a greedy guild running around in there somewhere as well, but that could be figured out. Hm. A topic for a future installment, I imagine.

Next week will be much more punctual, I promise.

Next Wednesday on Worldblogger: Nonhuman Races

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Undersea Politics

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 distinctly 16th century-feeling cultures, have sailed over the edge of their flat world to arrive here, to begin colonization and eventual exploitation of these resources. The local inhabitants, however, are powerful undersea kingdoms, full of dynastic struggle, ancient tradition and military might, and are quite unsure how to react to the presence of these foreign colonists.

I nearly forgot about Worldblogger this week. Whoopsie.

This week, we're talking undersea history and politics. As befits my Ancient Chinese model, the undersea kingdoms need to feel like these immortal powers, nations and cultures that have stood since virtually the dawn of time.

Looking to our map, we can see the world divides the most neatly into four seeming political territories, Kingdoms A-D:

The obvious parallel here is the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history, but I actually my needs are little more expansive. Rather than the Three Kingdoms originating from one large civilization, I think I'd want those divisions to be deeper, for the Three Kingdoms to have their own cultures, to better clash with the cultures of the incoming colonists.

Maybe Japan, China and Korea are better analogs?

In that case, Kingdom A seems the most obvious analog to the Japanese, based purely on geography. Distinctly isolated from the other three Kingdoms by distance and geographical barriers of islands, it makes sense the people of this sea would develop their own distinct culture, society and traditions. They presumably have trade with the other Kingdoms, Kingdom B at least, but trade doesn't seem to be their main practice, since they're so isolated. They'd need to be relatively self-sustaining.

Borrowing from the Japanese model, I could see them having a distinct martial tradition. If that's the case, the onset of the Colonists would maybe have an interesting affect on this particular civilization, if they'd perceive themselves as being invaded or at least encroached upon. 

For Kingdom B, the next parallel seems to be China. Inhabiting the most terrain and centrally located, it seems like it would be a center of prosperity and trade. It probably maintains a powerful military as well, but I imagine its reluctant to use it – I like the idea that it's friends with everyone, seemingly. A powerful ally and a dangerous enemy, Kingdom B could crush an opposing civilization by restricting trade to flow through its borders.

I think, unlike Kingdom A, Kingdom B would support and favor the incoming Colonists, as they bring new technologies and new goods into the territories. Too large, too beneficent to possibly be threatened by a few measly wooden ships, Kingdom B doesn't seriously feel threatened by this sudden influx of colonists from another world.

Kingdom C, naturally, would become the Korea-analog. This is separating somewhat from actual Korean history, but I like the idea that Kingdom C used to be merely a province of Kingdom B that acquired its independence relatively recently. Therefore, I imagine its fiercely independent and guards its borders with impunity. This is a topic, certainly, for another day, but I wonder if the inhabitants of Kingdom C are actually a slightly different race than the inhabitants of the other two Kingdoms. I haven't decided, necessarily, whether all these undersea races will be of like species, but it's an interesting thought.

I do think I'll establish an ethnic divide there and assume that the C Kingdomers were oppressed under Kingdom B's rule. In fact, let's maybe even say that there's some dispute over that – records are not especially reliable about the original divide. Kingdom C claims one thing, Kingdom B claims another. Whatever the case, the wound is fresh and the two people have only recently established a peace between them.

That leaves just Kingdom D, a Kingdom I created on a whim whilst drawing the map. (See, kids, maps can be useful). This notion of different species, races or ethnicities continues to amuse me and I think I'll have the occupants of Kingdom D also be of a distinct race from the other three Kindgoms. The Mongols seem to be the parallel that comes to mind. Warlike, marginalized and prone to bouts of conquest, I like the idea that, every few generations, the people of Kingdom D rear up and come lashing out at Kingdom B, raiding and pillaging their settlements.

I think that's pretty decent for a conceptual idea of the Three Kingdoms!

Next Wednesday: Colonist Cultures!
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Friday, February 7, 2014

A Theme Decidedly Nautical

What I'm Listening To: Sea shanties. The majority of my playlist came from good compatriot Steven Molonyactor, barbarian, Black Flag owner – and originated themselves off the latter's immense library of same. These, I've whittled down to several choice favorites (Randy Dandy Oh and Running Down to Cuba among them) and added a few other selections (Barrett's Privateers and Blood Red Roses, mainly). Barrett's Privateers has probably emerged as my favorite, contingent on the fact that it falls nicely within my baritone range. Both the missus and the neighbors are mystified/annoyed at how impossible to dislodge the song's become from my brain.

What I'm Reading: Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. I was lucky enough to stumble upon The Big Read, which contains chapters read by such luminaries as Tilda Swinton, Stephen Fry, Benedict Cumberbatch and even China Mieville. While most of the chapters are read by literature professors and legitimate boat captains, some of the more famous passages seem to be targeted – Stephen Fry read the "married to Queequeg" chapter, China Mieville read the "Squid" chapter. The ultimate irony was achieved with Sir David Attenborough reading "Does the Whale Decrease in Magnitude", about how the whale will never go extinct. (adjusts collar)

On the whole, however, I'm really appreciating the book. Sure, I, like every other sane human, get pretty glassy-earred around the long-winded and inaccurate to boot factoids about whale skulls, whaling and the nobility of same, but I find myself in the reveling in the absurdly long sentences, actively wishing for more Ahab and basking the general seafaring nature of the book. I think there's a sailor somewhere in my feeble, overfed frame.

What I'm Watching: Vikings on The History Channel. Enjoyable enough historical fiction, the show's infinitely improved by its network, surprisingly. While not tremendously accurate, there are tons of small homages or references to the actual historical civilization that wouldn't have been highlighted were the show premiering on a more mainstream station. There's a discussion of Viking nautical techniques, monks speaking Old English, Northumbria as a primary antagonist and even the classic "three-shield" trial by combat at one point. Stick to interesting factoids about longships and shieldmaidens, Vikings. Avoid, at all costs, your lame duck attempts to feature courtly intrigue. You're no Game of Thrones and everybody can tell.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


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 distinctly 16th century-feeling cultures, have voyaged to this strange place to begin colonization and eventual exploitation of these resources. The local inhabitants, however, are powerful undersea kingdoms, full of dynastic struggle, ancient tradition and military might, and quite unsure how to react to the presence of these foreign colonists.

Confession: I love maps.

Drawing maps, particularly of fictional locations, is one of the most smoothing and engaging activities I can conceive of. To me, a perfect evening is sitting, by the light of my one lamp, listening to an audiobook and drawing a map. Anyone afforded one look at my apartment's decor – at least 50% hand-drawn maps for my D&D campaign – understands quite how saliently I love maps. Hell, I drew maps all over my hand-made DM screen.

Point being, I was ecstatic to finally whip out the colored pencils and depict this fledgling world of mine. I'm so much more of an auditory person, but I think a truism, among all worldbuilders, is that a map is universally helpful in the field of idea generation.

Behold, ye readers – Worldbloggia! (Title not finalized)

Let's break this shit down.

1. The Edge
You'll recall, in the second Worldblogger post, I had the revelation that the earth was flat.

(The fictional earth, I mean.)

It later occurred to me, as I set down to map the world, how I'd like to illustrate this in some demonstrable way on my map. The logical conclusion, then, of course, is that the edge of the world would be visible on the map. What makes a flat world a fascinating concept, as I'm sure both Rowbotham and Pratchett would agree (Rowbotham & Pratchett need to be like, crime-fighting linguists professors or something), is the possibility of falling off. However, having discovered the edge implies some expansive exploration and geographical knowledge, which I specifically don't want the Colonists to have.

Then, it further occurred to me – why would the Colonists and the Kingdoms be from the same side of the disc?

The reason everything's so alien, so foreign to the world the Colonists come from is because they've somehow flipped, sailed onto the underside of the world. The conceit's present in fiction, I fairly sure – I think I read a recent Elric story with a similar premise – but it fit so perfectly into my narrative I couldn't let the thing go. In their ever-expanding reach for power and resources, the Colonists, explorers and envoys of a civilization that's all but encompassed their side of the disc, have crossed over, venturing into an entirely unknown and alien world on the opposite side of their disc. Done, done and done.

2. The First Sea
In mapping the underside of the disc, it became really important to me that I wasn't mapping purely for the Colonists, but for the Kingdoms as well. While this map is more of geographical one, I would like, at some future point, to make a map from the Kingdom's perspective – a more political map, showing the different regions and principalities of their world.

I was attracted to the idea that, to an undersea kingdom, a island chain would be a natural barrier, akin to a mountain range. In designing the continental coastline and archipelagos, then, I wanted leave large enough spaces for political, underwater territories. This then, the ringed-in space between the edge and the nearest islands, I considered the territory of the First Kingdom.

From the Colonial perspective, sailing off the edge of the map is tantamount to the Greeks sailing to the underworld. When they first surfaced, I wanted to create the illusion that it might be a blank disc, with no land, no fresh water and no salvation. Hell, I even like the idea that, for hundreds of years, they punished criminals by sending them in boats over the edge, effectively creating a penal colony of stranded humans hundreds of years before the drive exploration would drive them (literally) over the edge too.

The First Sea, I imagine, to be eerily windless, difficult to navigate and plagued by doldrums. Sailors go mad attempting to cross it and its maybe filled with ghost ships, right, floundered on rocks and shoals.  It takes many weeks of difficult and discouraging sailing to reach sight of any of the adjacent islands that border the First Kingdom.

3. The Second Sea
My first attempt at the Second Sea was, as you can perhaps see, laughably small. I liked the shape of the small ocean I did create and thought, instead, of Basque Country in Spain or even Vatican City in Italy – a smaller, somewhat independent nation, not quite powerful enough to call itself a Kingdom, that's nestled into the corner of the northern continent.

What separates this territory, politically or ethnically, from the other Three Kingdoms, I'm not certain yet – maybe something to do with their relations with the Colonists?

Otherwise, the Second Sea, which occupies most of the southern corner of the map, is the largest and I imagined wealthiest. As its located between the First Sea to the west and Third Sea to the north, it's perhaps controls the trade between the three entities and also, coincidentally, covers the most overall area. My instinct would be to say it's almost a Canada or Russian situation – where much of that territory might actually be uninhabited, but we'll have to see how the politics shakes out.

As for Colonists in this region, I imagine they're likely not as widespread as they would be in the First Sea and surrounding environs – maybe they've established some colonies, some forts, depending on the perspective of the Second Kingdom, but I think it's a gradient – most populous in the First Sea, less populous in the Second and maybe nonexistent in the Third.

As for the spiral chain of islands in the center of the Second Sea, that seems too planned to be anything but deliberate. Maybe one of the Kingdom's power is the ability to shape or reposition islands? Maybe that's OP.

4. Third Sea
Finally, we come to the Third Sea. Tucked far away into the corner of the map, almost entirely encircled by coastline, the notion that comes most immediately to mind is that the Third Kingdom is the most xenophobic, the most isolationist, the least in favor of the Colonists and this sudden influx of outsiders. It seems insular, shielded as it is, and that seems to lead to certain other assumptions – possibly warlike, possibly with a powerful authoritarian government. This is all, more or less, conjecture, but first impressions are important.

A note of unfinished coastlines – I specifically made the point to leave some coastlines undefined, in the classic tradition of inaccurate or incomplete maps from the Age of Exploration. I think, depending on how strident I become with this setting, it might be interesting to draw up several more maps, specifically drawn from the Colonist's perspectives, that are skewed and incongruous beyond belief. I love the idea of the various Colonist factions being wholly unable to mary their various maps and charts of the region and neither of them, necessarily, being wrong.

Whew. Another long one. I should maybe start to expect these posts to reach a lengths this long.

Next Wednesday on Worldblogger: Undersea History!

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Monday, February 3, 2014

Review: Space Dandy 1.4 & 1.5

Once more unto the reviews, my friends!

Episode 4: Sometimes You Can't Live With Dying, Baby!
Probably my favorite episode of the series so far. What begins as your fairly typical zombies-in-space-fare becomes an enjoyable romp through an infected hospital and further becomes a humorous denouement wherein the crew and the whole universe, narrator included, has been zombified. The show's bravery in throwing the premise out every week is extremely refreshing and all the Romero references actually serve to strengthen a show whose core conceit is so wishy-washy. Plus, Dandy's horndoggery is reserved to a couple passing jokes, before discarded as wasteful. A fun, amusing and promising episode that smacks pleasantly of Shaun of the Dead.

Episode 5: A Merry Companion is a Wagon in Space, Baby.
What's this? A sentimental episode? A sentimental episode with a three-dimensional female character? Sure, this episode's Adelé gets ever so slightly damseled towards the episode's end, but I revoke my earlier statement and declare this episode my favorite. When the Aloha Oe gets impounded, Dandy's forced to take the childlike alien he's just caught to the Public Registration Office via public transit, prompting a bonding road-trip between hunter and prey. This episode could've come straight out of Cowboy Bebop, a fact even the music – twangy, acoustic guitar – seems aware of. Plus, zero comically sexist Dandy in this one!

The Review So Far

Just as I was going sour on the series, it noticeably improves. This most recent episode not only did away with the usual sexist bullshit, but also with the unnecessary villains lurking in the background that never quite seem to catch the protagonists. I was beginning to imagine the whole Gogol Empire plot was simply a parody of itself, with the Vicious-esque villain who's far too dramatic for the series he's trapped in. Whatever the case may be, I hope the series continues on this upward trend, though this most recent episode seems much more likely to be a flute.

Thanks for reading and hey – download my new short story!

Battery Low (January Short Story)
Orla the Town remembers a time before the impact, the event that killed billions and blanketed the world with snow. Orla the Man, the ghost town's only remaining inhabitant, does not. It's been one hundred tally marks since he's seen another human being and, when he does, he must face the all-important question; has he lost his mind in isolation?

Battery Low is a post-apocalyptic tale about snow, solitude and an earth frozen over.

$0.99 on Amazon and Smashwords!