Please join me in welcoming author J. Kenton Pierce to the blog today!
I place the blame squarely on Alice Mary Norton. It’s really all her fault. As a boy I’d read my hobbits and seen my Star Wars, hid behind the couch from The Devil In the Dark. Really. (I mean, how the hell do you get away from a monster that can burrow right up through the ground to acid you up some?) But it was Andre Norton who showed me the possibility that a broken world offered. Daybreak 2250 latched on to a corner of my imagination and claimed it for its own.
Broken worlds offer a lot to play with. Picking and choosing which pieces get put back together, and into what shape… What values survive? What necessities become traditions, new values? I’m not talking a year or ten after the Zombocolypse or whatever. That’s been done, sometimes brilliantly, sometimes, well, not so much.
Pournelle and Niven taught me how to break ‘worlds in Lucifer’s Hammer and Footfall. That’s a start. I’ve always loved colonization tales like Legacy of Heorot. So. Broken, lost colony? Well, in a big space-opera sort of storyverse, that would take a galaxy-wide interregnum to actually stay lost. Easy enough. And to think they ask “War, what is it good for?”
That settled, what could I do differently to set my broken world apart?
How about a world where the survivors have retained their history instead of sinking into some primitive, superstitious tribalism? (Not knocking the trope, just not where I wanted to go.) Hmm… most of the heavy industry would be in orbit, in the belts… The dirtside industry that survived would be small scale. And they’d need to develop technologies that wouldn’t attract the attention of the blockade drones orbiting their world. Those automated relics target wireless signals and electromagnetic noise. No skimmers, floaters, aircars, or hell, anything that used internal combustion, which rely on electrical systems…
“We didn’t just get all stupid and forget all our Science out in the rain where it got ruint or something. We know right where we left it; we just can’t use most of it without getting a chunk of nickel-iron slammed into us from on high. So don’t get some idea we’re all dancing nekkid around fires praying to some “Sky People” or worshiping an old bottle of Zippy Fizzaloo.—Shaifennen Roehe, A Kiss For Damocles
Oooohhhh… I love me my steampunk. Hmmm… is there a way to rationally fit clockwork and steam in a relatively hard sci-fi universe? No Vibratory Rays or Etherium Crystals.
Clockwork spring-bolters instead of gauss weapons, airships of nanoweave fiber and fullerene composites, powered by steam engines that run on biogas. Pre-war, high tech items like pocket readers with their data solids could be produced on a cottage-industry scale.
What about the people? That’s the important part, after all. The finest storyworld is a dry, cold place without people. Which people? Well, I love a broad palette. One of the best things about the BBC is the wonderfully vibrant range of ethnicities and body types…Ayeden Prime would have been a cosmopolitan world, I’ll draw from as many ethnicities and heritages as I want. (Hollywood casting must be like being invited to draw a picture, but only with a box that has most of the crayons missing…) Gender roles are pretty non-existent, because Darwin doesn’t give a fig about antiquated social mores when supplies are low and there’s something scratching at your gate in the deep-winter darkness. And family structures? How would survivors huddled in underground mag-lev tubes adapt socially over centuries of volcanic winter?
That’s the thing I’ve learned to love about writing… practical, survival problems unexpectedly become the source local flavor; cultural seasonings that are familiar but in new combinations. So if the social and technological goulash I’ve simmered up sounds interesting, consider a trip to Ayeden Prime.