Settling In (2010)

There were benefits to having one’s own ship. You could travel anywhere, anywhen, and be master of your own fate. A ship represented freedom. Then again, Elise thought as she was moved past customs without a glance, there were also advantages to getting a ride on someone else’s ship, especially a connected ship. Her own ride was connected to House Elaric, therefore they got to land in the crime family’s part of Trevess port, instead of the neutral territory section. It also meant that customs was extremely lax to the point of being a non-entity, even though security was prevalent. The poor fools in non-connected ships would be waiting for hours before setting foot planetside. By the time they got through, she’d be settling into her new shop and enjoying dinner.

Elise looked around after she left the port, hitching her pack of special tools to a more comfortable place on her shoulder. The House Elaric dockworkers would unload and send the rest of her gear to the new premises.

Trevess, both the city and the planet, were just like she remembered them, she thought as she walked down a street. In four blocks, she’d counted ten times as many House enforcers flanking the doors of different establishments, watching each other and the crowds. Different houses, she noted, recognizing a couple. Probably the clubs and restaurants that House elders favored for doing business. Since the planet was host to the top brass of a few score interstellar and international crime organizations, Elise decided to give those places a wide berth. If the town hadn’t completely flipped in the last seven, eight years, those would be the best, most expensive, and most dangerous eateries in the city. Even though most of the big players tried to avoid collateral damage, sometimes people got caught in the crossfire accidentally, and some of the lesser players didn’t much care for the unspoken rules, especially those looking to establish a reputation.

The crowds and obvious bodyguards thinned as she moved north out of the center of town. Various vehicles—wheeled, tracked, GEV, hover—went by without notice. The traffic was lighter than even the smallest of Protectorate or Alliance cities, if more heavily armored. The latter was only really noticeable by those with the expertise or experience to spot the signs of enhanced drivetrains and concealed fire portholes. Some probably even had pop-up turrets, Elise eventually noted, like the ones obviously on escort duty.

She tapped a key on her wrist comp, activating the holodisplay to check an address. The device itself was outdated, replaced by voice recognition models years ago, but she was a tad old fashioned when it came to personality sims and talking to computers.

Satisfied, Elise turned down a side street. A block later, she flashed a cred chit at a door reader, waited a few seconds for positive ID, and entered the apartment building as the house computer opened the door for her. To her surprise, an aging Claxil stood waiting and asked after her bags. She took in his worn and plain uniform with a glance as she turned down the assistance. It was good to know there was a doorbeing, even if it was because the place was too cheap to get a ‘bot or an even more expensive, well trained, living doorbeing. The Claxil would do, she decided, opting for stairs over the lift. At least he wore the protection signs of four different Houses, so the owners weren’t stingy on security.

Truth to tell, the apartment was a closet, but it was only temporary. Once the shop was cleaned up and she’d figured out which Houses to pay off, the back could be fixed up as living space. Until then, an apartment was probably safer. The downside was the lack of eating in the apartment structure. She revised her assessment of the doorbeing, the owners were extremely cheap. Even the most low end places elsewhere has a building kitchenette.

At the thought of food, Elise checked the blaster in her thigh holster and the concealed holdout electromag she always carried on Trevess.

She briefly wondered if Farsun’s was still around. Easy enough to find out. With the touch of a button, she was in touch with the Claxil downstairs. A quick bit of translating into her halting Claxi and she learned the infamous tavern not only still existed but the old owner still tended bar and ran the place. Despite the flux and excitement of Trevess, she was glad there were a few rocks that hadn’t changed.

Getting to Farsun’s was rather fast, once she got reoriented to the city.

The city had been built up a lot since she had last been on the planet, but Elise was pleased to spot the still seedy Farsun’s sign sandwiched between two new complexes similar to the one she was staying in. The two story, windowless tavern looked squat and even more disreputable next to the dingy, once bright, apartment buildings. Hopefully the clientele hadn’t changed either.

Farsun’s had a reputation as the home of dishonorable, unconnected crooks of all sorts. Both were cardinal sins by the standards of the Houses. That meant the Houses avoided the place, unless they wanted to covertly contract a non-House worker. Strangely, Elise thought as she stepped inside, this made Farsun’s a safer place, almost neutral territory. Sure there was the occasional brawl, but at least no one got shot or blown up.

A few seconds passed, giving her eyes a chance to adjust, before she heard, “Elise!” from the direction of the bar.

Grinning, and going over, she returned, “Delvis Farsun, you still watering down the swill you call beer, old man?”

“Just took your advice, miss,” the portly man behind the bar shot back.

Elise bristled a bit at the title, but got it under control. Fair play for her comment.

She took a seat a couple feet from Delvis. “Any chance of a meal and something that’s not rotgut or swill?”
The barman snapped his fingers, which elicited acknowledgment from the kitchen. As he poured an emerald liquid into a glass mug, he asked, “Just passing through? Only it’s great luck, you coming in now, with all the stuff in back needs fixing . . .”

Elise laughed, an odd sound in the tavern, “Take care of my meals and . . . three drinks a day, and I’ll fix anything you’ve got, Delvis. Same deal as last time, but long term. I’m setting up shop over on Fuego. A little info and I’ll fix your backlog too.”

“Fuego? Off Easport? Sure, I can come up with the local Houses, the established big honchos at least. Don’t worry about the small fry.”

“Even if they change daily, I’d like to hear, Delv. Sometimes the small problems cause the most trouble. Remember that cooling unit last time?”

“Aye, details . . . clear forgot your thing about details,” Delvis allowed as a plate of pub grub appeared in front of Elise.

She almost missed the waitress leaving it. The stuff on the plate would, she thought, be better missed. It didn’t really matter what it had been, like all of Farsun’s food it was fried beyond recognition. But the price was right and it would keep her going. Generations of her family had been raised on the stuff, way back to their days on Earth, centuries before the Protectorate or contact with the Nalthians.

“I’ll get that list tomorrow, Elise, come back for lunch,” Delvis said a few minutes later. “It’s not my usual area. People that ways usually go to Varses’ or Gilded.”

“No worries, Delv,” she replied around some of the fried whatever. “Prolly won’t hafta pay anything ‘til I’m set up anyway, that’ll be a week, I think.”

The place was quiet through the rest of the brief meal. Things didn’t usually pick up, if she remembered correctly, until mid-evening, after the people who had day jobs and the younger members of small Houses decided to relax or drink themselves into a stupor. Lots of time for her to get off the streets before they became rowdy.

In fact, the walk back to her closet was remarkably clear. Say what outsiders did, the Houses at least kept the peace well on their own world. Never mind that they broke every law imaginable elsewhere in the galaxy and that Trevess had no real laws. But the Houses did have a code of honor and did protect their own, expecting loyalty and a token payment in return.

Once she was in the building, the door Claxil told Elise, in brief, why the streets were empty. A spectacular House assassination—involving poison, gunfire, and at least one explosion—had apparently been executed across town. Something on that scale was bound to draw both attention from the everyday folks and retribution from the House, one she’d not heard of.

Up in her room, Elise secured all five locks on the door and propped herself on the bed.

She fished a pair of sunglasses out of a pocket, put them on, and lowered the integral ear buds into place.

After shifting to get comfortable, she said, “Verse, Elise forty-five, fourteen, seven delta.”

As soon as the password was confirmed, the computer VR rig allowed her to materialize in a large workroom. The start point, like her avatar, was stowed in the set. One of the three doors led to the local Network-verse, another to the rest of the virtual building, and the last was an out-system connection. Out in the real world, Elise muttered to herself, voicing movement and other commands, too squeamish for a full neural implant link. The voice command vid link was enough for her purposes. And it was familiar.

In fact, she had already unconsciously scanned the virtual space for messages.

Finding none, she sent a command for the ‘house’ daemon to call up the results of her pre-landing search. The program, looking like a shop assistant, handed over a packet of papers. She flicked through them, skimming for familiar names, before shoving the data into a pocket, representing her computer, for later reading. The electronic gossip would hopefully fill in gaps in Delvis’ knowledge, and confirm whatever he came up with.

Elise fixed her avatar, changing clothes and adding a few inches to her hair, before dismissing the daemon. Unlike some, her default avatar basically looked like her real self, with some modifications for Verse life.

Once she was satisfied, she opened the door to the local Verse’s Main Street.

Every solar system’s Verse had its own Main Street, all with the same name, even if they all had their own unique shape and character. Trevess’, for instance, Elise was instantly reminded in a visual assault, was a riot of color and noise. She looked around, taking her time to get reacquainted. Someone had once told her that Trevess’ Main Street was loosely inspired by the glitz and glamour of mid-twentieth century Earth’s Vegas, in the heyday of the western hemisphere’s organized crime. Well before the days of the Protectorate. If that was true, it was heavily modified by alien influence. Hell, even after years of travel, she didn’t recognize a few of the languages written in ten foot high neon characters.

But there were enough recognizable ones.

Enough that she could get her bearings and recall the virtual neighborhoods. To the left, places catering to the young hackers and artists, including the fantastic realms where reality went bye-bye. To the right, and down a long ways, the areas frequented by the belters—miners and other stuck in the belts on single ships or stations with small staff presence. Trevess’ working class gravitated toward that end of Main. Straight ahead, though, were the trendy electronic places where the young House members conducted business and pleasure without their elders’ supervision.

That would be the place to confirm Delvis’ info again, and to get the word out about her new operation. Most of the money and desire for custom arms and armor came from the Houses. Same for the special electronics. That was doubly true of their security and young rich kids. There’d likely be some repair work for people like Delvis, but that stuff wasn’t steady enough to pay the bills.

She drifted across the virtual street toward a gaudy club. Definitely new money and young clients. Their elders would consider the place too flashy and non-traditional, for the most part. Perfect.

Halfway across, Elise stopped, her brain struggling for a second to find recognition.

“The hell,” she breathed, then louder, “Mitch? Mitch Clareson?”

A short distance away a young man, tall and of obvious northern European stock, turned toward her. He still had the blonde ponytail, she saw. Even here he also carried the Japanese short sword and . . . yes, she could almost see its companion dagger, as recognition dawned on his face.

“Elise Gordon,” he said through a grin. “When did you get to Trevess? Or are you just slumming in the Verse?”

She chuckled, steering him toward a quieter looking establishment.

“I just landed today. Sounds like you’re on-world, though. VR rig, I assume? Where are you?”

He shrugged, “Can’t tell you specifics, but a Guild school in the bush.”

“What the hell’s a Guardian doing working for the Mercenaries’ Guild?”

“Earning a living,” he chuckled, “so my more fortunate brothers and sisters can meditate in peace, as usual. And when the Guild hires outside teachers, it hires the best.”

“Bet it’s less dangerous than bodyguarding stupid rich kids, huh?”

“Perhaps, but also less challenging and less . . . opportunity to perfect one’s training, but I’m not complaining.”

Elise outright laughed, especially at the idea that her friend might retire to the monasteries his order maintained. He was, she thought, a field Guardian at heart. A life of contemplation wouldn’t suit her mental image of him.

“I’m kind of here on business,” she said, “but I can put that on hold to catch up with an old friend . . . unless there’s somewhere you need to be, or you’ve got some time in town coming up?”

“No vacations until the contract’s up next month,” Mitch said, “and nowhere urgent to be, there’s always time for my favorite gunsmith, even if . . .”

“. . . you never buy anything,” she finished. His order was forbidden by its own laws from using guns of any sort. Some ancient code that saw them as over-reliance on the external or something. It was an old point of contention between them, but one they often took with minimal seriousness.

They entered the nearest place and found a quiet seat.

The latter was a bit difficult, but the fact that their avatars clashed horribly with the medieval-fantastic décor helped a bit. The sources of the shouting and other noise were three platforms on which pairs or small groups of patrons fought with swords and computer generated magic. Elise managed to refrain from shaking her head and rolling her eyes. Clearly one of the Verse places where reality’s laws were suspended. Mitch never even batted an eye.

On the other hand, he fit in better than she did. His order’s uniform, which his avatar wore, wasn’t that far removed from some of the outfits worn by the outlandish patron avatars. And his sword was more at home than her virtual blaster.

Even so, Elise almost suggested they go elsewhere before a short, stout, bearded woman carrying a large axe asked if she wanted a more appropriate avatar modification. She managed to get the employee to leave without listing all the options while Mitch merely smirked. Guardians, she recalled, were recognized, respected, and left alone pretty much everywhere, virtual or otherwise, in the galaxy. Lucky bugger.

“So.” She turned her attention back to her friend. “How’d you end up with a Guild contract? Weren’t you guarding whatshisname, that kid from House Vash?”

“That was six years ago, and he was fourteen,” Mitch laughed. “The ‘kid’ grew up and his uncle sent him somewhere, began with a c, one of the alien nations. He took House security loyal to his uncle, watchdogs and spies for the old man, most like. I took a couple short term jobs escorting high profile visitors, then the Merc Guild contacted me, about a year ago. The donations to the order were good, the non-disclosure agreement is fair, end of story. And you? Where have you been for half a decade?”

She shrugged, “Nothing too exciting. A bit of armoury and general fix-it work on some merchanters and transports, nothing heavy or grey. Mostly ship and small arms repair and refitting. Bouncing around here and there. Finally hitched a ride on an Elaric cargo ship with my savings to set up on my favorite planet in the galaxy.” Elise grinned with the last statement.

“Definitely one of the best for someone in your line of work, between the Guild and the Houses. I admit to wondering why you had not settled in earlier.”

“Wanderlust, desire to see other worlds and meet new people. Maybe even find myself.”

“The only constant in life is change.”

“One of your masters?”

“In a manner of speaking,” Mitchell grinned. “It appears to be something of a universal sentiment among old Terran philosophers from Lao Tzu to Boethius. The old masters and thinkers, I think, liked to remind their students that we all constantly grow, learn, and change, until we all reach our ultimate end, the one that waits for everyone.”

Elise shook her head.

“Way too deep and morbid for me. But the change thing is good.” She fished out a card, a representation of data. “Here, my address is the local Verse. I should probably get some business done tonight, but we should get together somewhere less crowded tomorrow. I’d love to hear what’s changed since I left, and trade some stories.”

“Indeed. I should not keep you from necessities,” her friend said, rising. “Tomorrow, your place around 2100? My last session ends at eight, that should give me time to clean up and get comfortable.” The datacard disappeared inside his jacket, really being downloaded onto a computer. Belatedly, Elise hoped it wasn’t a Guild system and was secure. Business with the Guild was one thing, giving them her downtime hangout was something else. On the other hand, Mitch was an old friend and discretion was part of his job, if not of his calling.

She shrugged mentally. Too late now, either way.

“Sure, I should be mostly unpacked by then and at least seeing the faint glimmer of being settled in.”

With a lingering clasp of forearms, the two parted, Elise toward the trendy virtual club she’d spotted earlier. It was, despite her need to fully set up premises, high time for her to drum up some business.

Content Questions

With the last of the Codex material posted, I now need to generate content again.  🙂

There is a project I’m working on, but as it’s handwritten (my preferred for fiction), it’s not exactly postable.

So, I’ll open this up to the hive mind.  Are there any questions or is there anything you’d like to see my take on covering:
– Writing (fiction or non-)
– Fantasy (written or film)
– Sci-Fi (written or film)
– Worldbuilding
– Education (post-secondary)
– History (pre-17th century)
– Gaming (Tabletop RPGs; I’m a bit behind, but still follow such things)

– Shapeshifters

– Magic (historical or genre)
– Anything else interesting

Phaser, Disruptor, Windmill: Technology in F/SF

The question of technology is a familiar one for the science fiction genre, but it is almost equally important in the fantasy and urban fantasy genres. In the last, the relationship between technology and magic, or technology and paranormals, is very important.

With that in mind, let’s break the issue down by genre:

Most fantasy worlds are stuck in a medieval to early modern level of technology with occasional forays into ancient and Victorian levels. In part, this trend is likely due to the tradition of medieval romances and legends that serve as the foundation of the modern genre. The medieval era also tends to be romanticized to some extent in Western society, functioning as a source of and setting for dreams and flights of fancy, the home of the proverbial knight in shining armor.

The tendency toward the medieval could also be tied to the same reasons that Renaissance faires and HMB are popular. Frankly, swords and armor are, in the popular imagination, cool. The era before gunpowder and WWI-type horrific warfare—mass destruction, mass chemical/biological weapons, nuclear devices, carpet bombing—and even the printing press is often seen as “simpler” somehow.

That said, there is no real reason that fantasy has to be stuck in the medieval or Renaissance technology level. It could easily be set in a secondary world with modern technology (Max Gladstone gets close to this), or Victorian, or steam (China Mieville), or others.

Urban fantasy, in the majority of cases, is based in modern technology, which brings in other issues and potential tweaks to the subject.

The interaction between magic and technology is, perhaps, the most important issue. Some hold that magic and modern technology are incompatible and affect each other negatively. They decide that magic and tech contradict each other and cancel each other out. Others argue that there is no reason the two should be inimical, but rather that they can work well together. And, of course, there are those who fall somewhere in between. Jim Butcher and Ilona Andrews provide good examples here, with technology and magic continually vying with each other.

Even if magic and technology can be co-mingled, that does not necessarily speak to every species. Sometimes, to play with ideas, authors limit technology problems to certain species. For instance, the classic fae and iron issue, which causes trouble for fae trying to travel in the modern world, in cars made of steel.

The question does provide fertile ground for unusual effect, though. For instance, high concentrations of magic may affect electronics (Rowling). Cell phone signals may interact with certain paranormal lineages to attract monsters (Riordan, Percy Jackson). Magic may only disrupt technology if it is directly applied to the piece of technology (Riordan, Kane Chronicles).

Technological development is an issue of obvious importance to the science fiction genre, from cyberpunk’s chrome to space opera’s blasters to the entire genre’s starships. Whether the technology involves travel ,communications, medicine, protection, combat, lifespans, cloning, genetic engineering, robotics, or AI, it can all profoundly affect the cultures and societies of the world. The choice of technology can also affect what stories can be told in the setting—if interstellar travel or communications are difficult or slow, then the setting is unlikely to have a galaxy spanning civil war with epic space battles.

Choosing the level of technology, or levels if each area is considered independently, should be done carefully so the technology doesn’t bury the story or other world elements. With that in mind, the technology will both define societies and be defined by them. Take, as an example, smartphone technology. The introduction of relatively cheap, and thus widespread, smartphone usage has brought about significant changes in all of Earth’s societies in terms of communication, connectivity to others, cross-cultural dissemination, information gathering, traffic safety, and a host of other areas. On the other hand, society has defined the smartphone in terms of usage as well. The evolution of the smartphone has been guided just as much, if not moreso, by average users and their desires as it has been by programmers and engineers. Regardless, technology will always affect the social growth and evolution of societies, whether that tech be cloning, cybernetics, regular space travel, or cold fusion.

Additionally, technology can be widely different based on species or nation, and not just in level of development. Example 1: Star Trek’s Romulans have cloaking technology that other species lack, Klingons use disrupters while the Federation uses phasers. Example 2: Babylon 5’s humans use rotational methods for artificial gravity, Vorlons have living bio-tech ships, Shadows have cloaking tech.

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Re-History: Revisiting History in Worldbuilding

History is an important element of every worldbuild, regardless of genre. In Clancy-style thrillers, the history of nations and the history of organizations are important. David Morrell built entire action thrillers out of small pieces of history, and built secret organizations and societies with their own histories. On a larger scale, Tolkien and George Martin constructed huge continental or global histories going back several millennia.

Facing this daunting task, one thing writers and worldbuilders find themselves facing the question of what to include. Limiting history to rulers, battles, and wars gets boring and dull fast. Histories can include foundations of nations, cities, other sites, and organizations; reigns of rulers and dynasties; conflicts between nations, leaders, religions, and groups; treaties, good & bad times (ex. the Great Depression); inventions of note; first contacts between civilizations and species; the rise and fall of nations, families, and organizations.

In fantasy, urban fantasy, and sci-fi, history forms the foundation of current events and national or species relations. It affects current organizational relations as well, ex. the mages and clergy are at odds because the priests tried to purge magic from the country 100 years ago.

The depth and detail of histories varies widely, for a host of reasons. We know that Tolkien’s history is very complex and detailed thanks to the Silmarillion and Lost Tales. Frank Herbert’s was probably equally detailed, based on what Kevin Anderson and Brian Herbert have been able to reconstruct from his notes. Rowling and George Lucas’s histories seem to have started rather sketchy and been filled in when needed. Michael Moorcock seems to be somewhere in between. The depth of detail also depends on the length of the piece. Neil Gaiman didn’t need to be excessively detailed in putting together a history for Neverwhere, a relatively short standalone novel. Herbert needed a detailed history for his extended epic. The role of history in the piece can also determine detail. For Neverwhere, detail and depth were not particularly necessary, just a general knowledge of London history and the Atlantis legend even though that history forms the plot. On the other hand, the history of Middle-Earth drove the plot of a wide ranging epic.

Once the history is outlined or fleshed out, how does it get incorporated?

The methods are almost as varied as the elements of history itself, sometimes they aren’t even necessary.

History can be introduced through the laws and cultural traditions of the setting. J.K. Rowling’s wand usage laws derive from the wizarding world’s history with non-human species. Frank Herbert’s imperial edicts against artificial intelligence have their roots in the Butlerian Jihad, 10,000 years before the events of Dune.

Tolkien utilizes the songs and stories of the elves, dwarves, hobbits, and Rangers to convey elements of Middle-Earth’s history.

In certain settings and types of stories, courses and books can relate parts of history. A good example of Rowling’s use of the school setting to convey her fictional history.

The very landscape can be tapped to tell the reader about the world’s history. For example, Tolkien’s use of the Argonath, the Barrows, and Weathertop or George Lucas’s shots of the temple of Yavin IV.

Family and national relations are another good way to bring in the world’s history. George R.R. Martin does this well, if in a somewhat heavy handed way, with the Starks (former Kings of the North) and the relationship between Dorn and King’s Landing.

Species relationships build out of the family and national ones. Rowling’s discussion of the various Goblin Rebellions and the plots present in many vampire-werewolf movies—in which ancient relationships lead to species conflict—are good examples.

The appearance of organizations or groups can be used as a moment to narrate or describe some history. For example, Martin’s use of the return of the Faith Militant under Cersei Lannister-Baratheon.

Other times, the entire plot of the story can reveal world history or the real world antecedents of the fictional world. The entire plot of A Song of Ice and Fire (Martin) is based on the English War of the Roses. Harry Turtledove builds most of his secondary worlds out of history, including Videssos and the setting of the Fox novels which are treated almost like alternate histories.

Turning to real world history is often an excellent option for finding inspiration for fictitious histories. There are many interesting elements, moments, and odd things in our own history that spawn plots, cultures, or even entire worlds. For instance, the appearance of the Plague in Europe, which yielded significant socio-economic and religious change. Or the sumptuary laws that were instituted throughout most of Europe to differentiate the impoverished noble class from the wealthy mercantile classes. Perhaps even the family relations of the European heads of state leading up to and throughout WWI (almost all of whom were cousins).

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Who Wants to Live Forever?: Lifespans & Immortality (F & SF)

The idea of extending the average human lifespan is a common feature of science fiction as well as fantasy and urban fantasy. The introduction of non-humans with very long lifespans, or even true immortality, is also common. For example, R.A. Heinlein’s Lazarus Long, C.J. Cherryh’s Cyteen, J.R.R. Tolkien’s elves (immortal) and dwarves (long lived), or any urban fantasy writer’s vampires.

 Because of its prevalence, there are a wide variety of options that can be played with as part of the concept.

 Extended Life versus Immortality

There is a difference between an extended lifespan and immortality. Someone whose lifespan has been extended will eventually die of natural causes, because they continue aging and the body will eventually break down. On the other hand, an immortal individual will never die of old age. Either version may or may not include immunity to disease, immortality usually does.

 There are also three major varieties of life extension and immortality that can come into play:

Extended Life—The individual ages and gets progressively older, but lives longer.

Slowed Aging—The individual ages, but at a significantly slower rate than other people; ex. the individual ages one year for every five that pass.

Unaging—The individual never ages beyond a certain point, usually achieving adulthood or being turned into an immortal.


Once the decision between extended life and immortality is made, there are other questions. The most important is how does the life get extended or why is the character/species immortal. Literature and movies give us thousands of possibilities for achieving an extended life, from medicine to alchemy, natural genetics to magic items.

There are also several different kinds of immortality:

Alchemical Immortality—A common element of Western and Asian, particularly Taoist, legend is the elixir of life, an alchemically brewed drink that prevents death so long as the individual drinks it on a regular basis. Ex. Nicholas Flamel (Rowling & Scott), the Taoist Immortals.

Ascension—Some sources discuss the option of ascending to a higher, usually non-corporeal, plane of existence and state of being, often through enlightenment, to achieve immortality. Ex. Bodhisattvas, The Ancients (Stargate).

Food-Based Immortality—Many mythologies around the world refer to specific foods that give the eater immortality. Ex. the Norse gods and Idun’s apples, the Chinese Peaches of Immortality.

Item-Based Immortality—Occasionally we come across stories in which a magical item confers immortality upon the owner, usually this is seen as a curse and the item cannot be removed or discarded.

Location-Based Immortality—Sometimes, an individual attains immortality, but only while (s)he remains in a given place; if the individual leaves that place, then they age at an accelerated rate until reaching their true age. Ex. the Grail Knight in Indiana Jones.

“True” Immortality—Nothing is required for this immortality to come into effect, usually this means the immortality is genetic in nature. Ex. Tolkien’s elves.

Undeath—An arguable immortality occurs when the individual achieves a state between life and death. Ex. ghosts, liches, the Norse draugr.

Vampiric Immortality—Individuals attain and maintain immortality by feeding on others, whether feeding on blood, emotions, or other life forces.

 In all cases, there are some biological and psychological effects to extended lifespans and immortality that should be considered.

 Maturation is perhaps the first biological effect that comes into play. With some sources of immortality or extended life, this is not an issue. When, for instance, an individual achieves immortality through alchemy, a magic item, or a location, then maturation is not an issue. For those who achieve immortality or long life naturally, some age normally until adulthood, then stop or slow down. Others have slowed aging from the start, ex. D&D non-humans.

 Psychologically, there is the question of how the mind contains and processes the memories and information acquired over centuries or millennia. For non-humans, the simple answer is that their minds naturally evolved to adapt to their extended lives. For humans, whether they reach immortality through alchemy or becoming a vampire or other means, most writers and worldbuilders come to the conclusion that eventually the weight of processing centuries of memories and information would become too much. This could lead to mental breakdowns or other issues. Some handle this potential problem by using torpor. If applied, this means the immortal occasionally enters a semi-hibernation state, whether willing or otherwise, during which they rest apart from society. This has the effect of preserving the mind and avoiding ennui on the part of the individual. It also serves to allow the society to evolve and others to shape or lead society.

 Alongside the personal effects, immortality and extended life, particularly on a widespread scale, are bound to have social effects.

Governance—The governance of society is an important issue, particularly if there is widespread immortality. Is there static, staid leadership that causes society to stagnate or are there artificial mechanisms in place to ensure change? For example, among Tolkien’s elves, both Elrond and Galadriel ruled their respective peoples for millennia in lands that effectively never changed, which was one reason they had to leave Middle-Earth.

Inheritance—If a significant number of people in society never die (of old age) or take centuries before succumbing to age, do their descendants ever inherit their worldly possessions? When? How?

Reproduction—If an immortal species can reproduce rapidly, they are very likely to overrun the world in a short time. This is one reason that many worlds with vampires include societal laws regarding who can create new vampires and when. On the other extreme, even an immortal species that reproduces too slowly will eventually die out. Balance between the two extremes seems to be key.

Social Climbing—Without natural death, or centuries between natural deaths, is it possible for individuals to climb in society? Usually, in mortal societies, openings in the social status structure are created through death or retirement. If we remove one or both of those, then society is heavily affected. Some artificial measures can evolve in society to solve the problem, including challenges and assassination, of opening up positions at the top of the social heap.

Social Influence—The longer a person lives, particularly in high end social positions, the most they influence and direct society. This can cause the same effects as governance. For example, Yoda spent 800 years on the Jedi Council and training Jedi, which means he exerted a massive influence on the Jedi Order’s philosophy, training methods, and membership as well as exerting influence on the direction of the Republic.

Of Blogs and Books

I had a thought last night and started some preliminary exploration this morning.

I’ve found that over the last four years of maintaining this blog, I have written over 24,300 words about world building and the F/UF/SF genres.  Combined with the roughly 20 posts I broadly conceived of in the last week or two . . . I’m seriously considering revising the 43 relevant posts and the upcoming 20-ish into something resembling a book.

I’m also considering setting up a Patreon account, to fund more writing time (that isn’t one of my 2.5 jobs – tutoring, resume writing, and freelance editing).

You’ve Gotta Live Somewhere: Nations in Worldbuilding





The Dragaeran Empire.

The Galactic Republic.

The United Federation of Planets.

All worlds have countries, whether in fantasy, sci-fi, or alternate Earths.  Some are real, and therefore don’t need much development beyond modifications to the genre or history.  The culture is there, the cities, government, currency, etc. are all there, just potentially different.  Others need to be built whole cloth, from the ground up.

As with the others in this mini-series, there are some minimum elements that I think we need to know.  Other details can be added, of course, such as currencies, cultural inspiration, fashion, customs, economics, and languages, as desired.

Government—What kind of government is present?  Is the government effective?  What about a public government versus a shadow government?  There are a wide variety of potential governments out there, so there’s no need to be limited to the typical fantasy empire or kingdom, nor for the sci-fi republic or empire.  What major political factions exist?

Head of State—Who is in charge of the government?  Is this individual a figurehead or does (s)he have actual authority and power?  Or is this a council or similar group of people?

Geography—What’s the land like?  Or planet, as the case may be?  Who are the country’s neighbors?  What relationships does it have with its neighbors?  The internal geography can dictate transportation, communications, even sub-cultures and political divisions (both in terms of governing divisions and political factions).

Legislature—What body establishes the laws of the country?  In some cases, this might be the head of state, with or without input from an advisory body.  In other cases, there may be an entire legislative branch apart from the executive.  Or the judicial branch may make the laws.

Law Enforcement—Who enforces the laws of the country?  This is both who is on the streets as well as the judicial branches.  Are there any special law enforcers?  Or is law enforcement a scaled thing—e.g. local, regional, national?

Capital & Major Cities—The capital of the country is obviously a good thing to have in mind.  But, there are also different types of capitals.  What’s the political capital?  Are there more than one (ex. at one point, the Roman Empire had two)?  Is there a financial capital?  Perhaps an academic capital?  Or even a religious capital?

Ex. Washington, D.C. is the political capital of the U.S., but NYC is the financial and tourism capital.  Riyadh is the political capital of Saudi Arabia, but Mecca is effectively a religious capital.

Religion—What religion(s) is/are known or represented in the country?  Is there a state religion?  Are there state gods?  If there are multiple religions, how do they relate to each other?  If there is a state religion, is it open to others or not?  What are the faiths present like?  Is there an unofficial state religion?

Ex. Officially, the U.S. has no state religion, unofficially Christianity is the state faith of the country; Denmark has a state religion, but it is very tolerant of other faiths; the UK has a state religion, led by the political head of state (who is a figurehead in both cases).

History— What has gone on in the country?  When was it founded?  How many leaders has it had?  Was it involved in any major historical events?  Has it changed over time?  How?  Were there any notable rulers (good or bad)?

Ex. Rome started as a kingdom, became a republic, then turned into an empire before becoming the Italian city-states, then a fascist ally of the Nazi regime, before finally settling as a democratic republic.

Sci-Fi Top 10

After some conversations, I’ve decided that this week and next, I’ll post some of my top 10 (and then some) lists for books (and a couple stories).  None of the lists are in any particular order.

To kick it off, Sci-FI:

1)      Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson

One of the top cyberpunk classics, following the adventures of the (aptly named) Hiro Protagonist as he navigates a world of corporate enclaves, private security, and mafioso pizza delivery. Mixes high tech, cyberspace, ancient Babylonian myth, and linguistic theory into an enjoyable ride.

2)      Tunnel in the Sky, Robert Heinlein

YA adventure novel charting a class of survival students training to lead interstellar colonies. In many ways a response to Lord of the Flies, although Heinlein cheats by giving the students prior survival training and gear.

3)      Foreigner-series, C.J. Cherryh

Space opera following Bren Cameron, diplomat between the “invading” human minority and the alien majority on an alien world. The series evolves from Cameron’s work as a glorified translator into a major mover in the alien society.

4)      Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury

Classic collection of short stories set on Mars. My personal favorite is “Usher II”, a piece against censorship.

5)      Demolished Man, Alfred Bester

Classic about a telepathic detective that inspired J. Michael Straczinski’s Babylon 5 psi cop Bester.

6)      Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Philip K. Dick

Classic better known as Ridley Scott’s film adaptation Blade Runner. Much more complex and philosophical than the adaptation.

7)      Dune, Frank Herbert

Classic epic of politics, genetics, religion, betrayal, redemption, and empire.

8)      Gather, Darkness!, Fritz Leiber

A relatively unknown novel about a society in which the church governs society and is opposed by “satanic witches”, both apparently using magic. In fact, each side employs concealed technology in their fight for control of society.

9)      A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter Miller, Jr.

Classic post-apocalypse piece following the monks of St. Leibowitz who attempt to maintain some semblance of civilization in the apocalyptic landscape.

10)  Stainless Steel Rat-series, Harry Harrison

Interesting series that mixes sci-fi crime drama with military sci-fi as the title character is brought into government service as spy and military officer.

When Genres Collide: Mixing Tropes and Styles

I’m shamelessly ripping off part of the title from an old SFRA conference name.

I’ve been working on two small, focused worldbuilds lately, taking a break from the massive multiverse builds and getting back to basics. In the process, I’ve been thinking more than a little about cross-genre writing and exploration. Obviously, this is something that’s been around for a while, at least the last thirty years, probably more. After all, Ray Bradbury preferred people to consider his writing fantasy (including The Martian Chronicles) rather than science fiction, despite the obvious sci-fi elements and lack of “traditionally” fantasy ones. And Fritz Leiber wrote in almost every genre imaginable, with a few crossovers in his Lankhmar stories (notably with Lovecraftian horror), roughly 80 years ago.

On one hand, I like genres. They certainly serve a purpose. They give readers a sense of what to expect from a story, they make marketing and advertising easier, and all that stuff. On the other hand, it’s also fun to see and think about cross-genre writing. C.J. Cherryh’s Morgaine and Hammerfall books spring to mind alongside John De Chancie’s Castle Perilous and even Robert Asprin’s MYTH books.

And, really, virtually all fiction is cross-genre. Lord of the Rings mixes epic fantasy and fairy tale; Harry Potter combines urban fantasy, epic, and mystery; Artemis Fowl mingles urban YA fantasy with action/adventure/spy; the Southern Vampire series mixes urban fantasy, southern lit, chick lit, romance, mystery, and horror.

Right now, I’m at the point of considering a high/urban fantasy and space opera mix. In a way something like secondary world Harry Potter grown up meets Firefly or Stargate (once I figure a few things out) with a dash of MYTH (without the humor and punnage). I’m still letting the broad strokes stew, poring over some fine points, while wrapping up a straight urban fantasy setting.

Regardless, I find cross-genre work very interesting, when done well. As with anything, when it’s not thought through or just slapped together, it tends to fall flat. Mixing the tropes and styles gives birth to some fun, new things as the synthesis of genres creates something rather different from its ancestors.

Urban Centers Fiction & Reality

Writers of urban fantasy, near future sci-fi, even mystery, historical, and other genres have an important setting decision to make: real or fictitious city? The answer to the question offers a variety of opportunities and potential problems.

There are several benefits to choosing a real city as a setting. First and foremost, the city is already named. Real cities also have maps, politics, locations, notable people, and histories already “pre-made” as it were. This can be great for writers as it saves a lot of the creation process. All the writer has to do is personalize the city to fit his/her worldbuild and genre (e.g. add magical sites, intervening history, tech modifications, fictitious agency offices). Additionally, real cities, particularly famous ones, have reputations, a feel, and form preconceptions in the readers’ minds: compare expectations of New York or Las Vegas to London or Beijing. William Gibson made especially good use of the city’s feel in his foundational cyberpunk works, employing Tokyo his primary inspiration. Ilona Andrews’ magic post-apocalypse Atlanta works well in this respect as well.


On the other hand, using a real city requires a significant amount of research and even a number of visits or long term visits to the city. Invariably, if a real city is chosen, there is going to be at least one reader who lives in or is very familiar with the city. Said readers will jump on errors in description of places, the city’s feel, and the like. Michael Scott and his Nicholas Flamel series is a great example of the level of research necessary, as he explicitly states that he repeatedly visited San Francisco, Paris, and London before writing his series (the vast majority of which occurs in the three cities). Using a real city can also open the writer up to a certain amount of ridicule, depending on the plot and genre. Case in point, the number of jokes circulating the web about the most recent run of Dr. Who and its use of London–ex. a Time Lord can travel anywhere in space and time, but he seems to spend an awful lot of time in early-21st century London.

Fictitious cities have the benefit of being tailored to the writer’s wishes and needs. The writer is not limited to a real place’s history, politics, or geographic limitations. Nor are there reader preconceptions. Fictitious cities also allow for secret societies and hidden communities, such as Eureka’s town Eureka and Sanctuary’s Old City. In both cases, the writers are given free rein to do whatever they wish with the city, in terms of initial design.

On the other hand, fictitious cities take a lot more work in some ways. They have to be designed from the ground up, including mapping, history, businesses and other sites, politics, famous people, cultural feel, everything. Even woth fictional cities, many writers take short cut by borrowing from real cities for some elements, or being inspired by real cities. This even comes into play with maps, ex. Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series, where he mapped his city by taking NYC and giving it a quarter turn. Another effect of fictional cities can be ambiguity of location, which can be a pro or con depending in one’s perspective. Case in point, Charles de Lint’s Newford, which American readers generally think is Canadian while Canadian readers tend to think Newford is an American city. De Lint says it was inspired by both, but tends to use U.S. laws.