The view from made-up space

>> Sunday, January 31, 2010

After finding myself increasingly unhappy with my sketches of what a world might look like for the fantasy project I'm gestating, I said "screw it" and reinstalled Fractal Terrains Pro on the Vista drive. I'd bought FTp a while back for RPG purposes--that's sort of what it's designed for--and simply hadn't brought it over to the new machine after the Gateway it was living on died (since I'm not gamemastering anything these days, no rush).

My reservation against using it for what I'm brewing is that it's a Windows program and I work in Linux--Vista lives on a drive for playing, but I don't have Writer's Café installed on the Windows drive or even an adequate word processor (it has MS Works, which tells you how seriously I take the Vista division of my schizophrenic machine). So at one level, to use FTp properly means rebooting, though I did try to install FTp under Wine with little success.

Except, as it turns out, once it was installed under Vista, I was able to mount the Windows drive in Linux--something I don't much like doing, out of some weird sense of propriety--and run Fractal Terrains using Wine from Terminal. I have no idea how stable it actually is, and I'm loathe to do very much with the program, but it is sufficient for mucking around with some of the distance and data tools--e.g. figuring out the annual rainfall of a point on the planet's surface.

I created this world, or the program did, in Vista; I put in some parameters (mostly using defaults, because I think the world my heroes are in is a bit Earthlike so far as weather goes), went through a few random selections until one appeared that I thought was kind of neat and might be the sort of place my characters might ramble around in. It doesn't really have a name right now, because I always get irritated when fantasy planets have weird names--our world doesn't really have a name as such, because people just called it "the ground" or "the world" or "the earth," and it's that latter one out of the generic list that sort of stuck when we realized the half-dozen weird wandering stars were also worlds (had we known that at the time, perhaps we'd live on Terra Mater, but we didn't and we don't, though SF authors frequently have our descendants living on Terra or in some sort of "Terran [insert government form here].")

While we're on the subject, I have the same peeve in science fiction, too. I always imagine a first contact conversation that goes something like--

Human: "Greetings! We are from Earth!"

Nonhuman: "Really? Wait--we're from Earth!"

Human: "I'm sorry, the language computer seems to be broken... okay. Greetings! We are from Earth!"

Nonhuman: "No, you're not. We're from Earth! Oh, and greetings, alien bipeds!"

Human: "I'm sorry. There seems to be some confusion here. We're from Earth. You're aliens."

Nonhuman: "So, aliens, what do you call your homeworld?"

Human: "I'm sorry. I really don't think we can have a meaningful exchange until we clear this up. Us: hu-mans. You: al-i-ens. We. Are. Earth. People."

Nonhuman: "Wait, wait, wait. You think you're people now? What the fuck?"

--and that's when the interplanetary war starts. But it ends up getting sorted out--a species of more-technologically-advanced beings show up from Earth and forces us to change our planets' names.

Anyway, that's not what this post was supposed to be about! No, the real point of the post was this:

What happens, or is going to happen, or might happen when I figure out how to actually write this thing, is my heroes are slumming on the continent on the western part of what you're seeing, and they get hired to accompany an expedition to the continent on the eastern side of what you're seeing, and along the way bad things happen and there's derring-do and stuff. And I wanted to share it with all of you because, you know, I'm sort of excited with this part of it, at least, though I may well end up just hating things as they roll out.

I'm not sure how deep I want to go with world-building. I know I don't want to do some Tolkienesque thing of inventing millennia of history and languages and so on; that's partly a lack of aptitude and time and partly that I like the idea that there are chunks of this world I just don't know about. On the other hand, I have to know enough for my characters' adventuring to have some kind of context. So this is the sort of thing I'm rolling around my skullmeat while also thinking about minor things like, you know, plot and character. (I kid! I'm not George Lucas, I actually care whether or not my characters are insufferable, use actual sentences and/or do things that make sense!)

I think I see the worldbuilding efforts as being more Howardian than Tolkienesque, though REH sort of "thinned" himself by setting his tales in a fantasy world that was conceived as kind of the "secret history" of our own world--that is, he didn't have to draw maps or invent cultures out of whole cloth, since he was re-imagining mythical or even real cultures and geographies from history. Simplifies things when you take the easy way out, Robert. (I kid.)

Another reason for posting this was a conversation I had with my Dad earlier, during which he was asking what I did yesterday and what I was doing today and I told him I'd imagined something wrong and screwed up, or something to that effect--which I realize made utterly no sense. What I meant was that I was originally thinking of my heroes leaving a more southerly point on the quadrant you can see above and ending up near a really-awesomely-big mountain in the southern hemisphere that you can't see up there. The first thing I realized was that their trip was too long, though I'd talked myself into being okay with that because, hey, "Epic Fantasy" and all that--everything's bigger, right? But then the second thing I realized was that the really bitchin' supermountain I'd picked for a destination, or background-to-the-destination, really, would be located in a position that would, in our world, be on the coast of Antarctica and that I'd been deceived by a Mercator projection (damn you, Mercator, and your map's useful property of maintaining straight-line bearings for navigational purposes at the expense of failing to preserve accurate proportionality at higher latitudes!). This is not something the reader would ever be likely to know if I just said, "screw it, who cares if there's a forest at the South Pole," but it would bother me, so I chose the more modest mountain spine visible in the above map, and coincidentally cut the time my heroes will spend in a boat--which may not even appear in the story--by more than half and to well within the kind of timeframe I really wanted.

So, you know, it's all good.

Anyway, that's what I've been working on today. In the real world, it's 37 F° outside, part of Mother Nature's clever scheme to melt all of yesterday's snow so it can refreeze tonight and cause lots of traffic accidents tomorrow. If you think of this in terms of natural selection, clearly going to work is a behavior that's being selected against, yet somehow I suspect my boss and creditors will not understand or even discuss this obviously logical point. It just goes to show that it's true: America is hostile to science.

Have a good remainder of your Sunday.


Nathan Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 4:33:00 PM EST  

I love your imagined "first contact" conversation.

I tend to get bogged down when I start to think that we'll run into a species incapable of making or hearing sounds. And they're sightless. They communicate be smell only (smells we human types find utterly noxious).

But that last part is OK. We won't actually smell them since they exist only in a 5th dimension we're completely unable to detect, so we won't even realize that we've "encountered" the alien smelly dudes.

P.S. They won't notice us in our dimension either, but that's cool since it saves them from having to touch our huge squishy bodies which would gross them out, no end.

WendyB_09 Monday, February 1, 2010 at 6:38:00 PM EST  

Ah, yes, the first contact version of Who's On First?

mattw Thursday, February 4, 2010 at 2:29:00 PM EST  

I don't do a whole lot of world building before I go about writing. I have a friend that does, and he seems to never get to the writing of the story. Plus, most recently, most of my stories have taken place on Earth. Our Earth, not someone else's Earth.

I might have to do a little bit with my latest story, which takes place on Earth like the DC Universe takes place on Earth.

Can't wait to see what you ultimately come up with. And if you do have a section with your characters on a boat, they can have feats of herring-do instead of derring-do, but then PETA might get involved and that's no good for anyone.

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