Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Heavenly Bodies

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.

This, sadly, is really becoming more of a biweekly thing. A shame, I suppose. I need more excuses to blog.

This week we're meant to talk about the Exodus, the possibly exiled, possibly self-exiled, possibly sinister group of religious extremists who came to the Underworld, looking for a new paradise where they could practice their religion uncontested. What, thus far, do we remember about the Exodus?

Primarily, they were the second group to arrive here and they have the closest relationship to the Brethren. Back on the Overworld, the Exodus were the blokes responsible for casting the criminals and heretics who would be the Brethren in barrels over the edge of the world. Probably isn't gonna go a long way towards endearing those two groups any.

Indeed, we even know that, prior to the Exodus' arrival in the Underworld, the castaways and refugees who would later adopt the Brethren mantle weren't even organized. It was the emergence of these, their hated enemies, that made the predatory instincts arise in these dissolute and isolated hermits.

What could be so terrible about the Exodus, besides revenge, that could inspire such vitriol?

I'm not sure if they're going to end up related, but I think I'm about to embark on an astronomy tangent. I've been reading the exceedingly relevant Quintessence by David Walton (overall, a meh book, but has some fascinating pseudo-science packed in there) and it also features, coincidentally, a flat world. The way he goes about handling this flat world is especially fascinating and led me to wonder whether or not the cosmology would work in a similar way.

In Walton's alternate history earth, the world is a flat disc and the sun continues to rotate, but in an ovular orbit. This means, when the sun rises, it's enormous to anyone on the eastern side of the disc and tiny to anyone on the western side. When the sun sets, it's enormous to anyone on the western side of the disc and tiny to anyone on the eastern side. This creates this exceedingly bizarre life cycle for creatures living on the either extreme.

In thinking about this model, I think I too would wanna majorly adapt the cosmology, but in a substantially different direction than Walton's. I think, as opposed to the sun orbiting the earth, I think the sun remains stationary, rotates and possesses a dark side. When the bright side of the sun shines down on the earth, it's daytime. When the sun is waxing, it's morning and when the sun is waning, it's evening. When the dark side faces the earth, it's nighttime.

I enjoy the effect this creates – sorta combining both heavenly bodies – moon and sun – into one celestial entity.

In a setting where the world's flat, however, a stationary sun would basically require a counterpart. I imagine the Underworld probably has it's own sun, following pretty much the same, if perhaps inverse rules. When it's daytime on the Overworld, it's nighttime on the Underworld. That seems to read.

Is there a way this could map to the Exodus faith? Historically speaking, the sun and moon are enormous figures in folklore and would probably factor prominently into whatever religion the Colonist cultures bring with them.

The obvious choice, here, would be to describe a binary religion, similar to Christianity, where the sun's bright side represents good, virtue, honor, righteousness and the sun's dark side represents evil, vice, deceit, corruption. That's definitely too on the nose. One step further would be the sorta Griffindor/Slytherin angle – the bright side represents bravery, passion, anger while the dark side represents cunning, wisdom, wit. Again, maybe closer, but too surface level, not quite interesting enough.

The few choices about the Exodus that I do like are the notion of a self-exile. Similar to the Puritans, where they voluntarily fled the nation of their birth to seek religious freedom elsewhere. I also like the implication they're less than virtuous themselves. There's something about their faith that's even outwardly bizarre or outlandish, something the average Colonist may not accept. Something with maybe even a vaguely cultish vibe.

Hm. This is proving difficult to pin down. My other instincts all run towards the supernatural but, again, we're attempting to avoid magic in this setting. 

I may need to come back to the specifics of the actual religion later. Maybe attempt to paint a surface level on their culture, particularly how they interact with other powers and cultures.

The Brethren, as I said, I think despise them. The Nations, meanwhile, are probably more or less indifferent to them – I feel as though they've adopted a much more mainstream religious view than whatever the Exodus practice. For the most part, I imagine the Kingdoms ignore them too, possibly regarding their beliefs as an academic curiosity, largely depending on which Kingdom we're talking about.

Early on, I'd had the idea that the Exodus did manage to convert one group – one of the Kingdoms in particular – to their faith and, in some ways, made much more fervent converts from them than they necessarily expected. The idea of the raiding Kingdom D culture absorbing whatever religion the Exodus brings them intrigues me and seems to suggest a few things about the core tenets of that religion – something that could permit the wanton raiding and pillaging Kingdom D's culture revolves around.

Again, all these clues with very little practical solutions. I'll probably have to percolate more on the specifics of the Exodus' actual religion before I can make that many concrete decisions about culture. Damn.

Well, whatever the case may be, next installment (hopefully next Wednesday), I'll be talking about Kingdom B, the mercantile center of the undersea world.

Next Wednesday on Worldblogger: Mermerchants!

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