Non-Earth UniversesPosted: April 23, 2014
I’ve started and abandoned several Earth-universe books, typically near-future sci-fi joints. They can be interesting psychological exercises – a reflection of the author’s political and cultural biases – but the defined historical root of the real world ultimately hamstrung me. (I’m sorry for inflicting one of them on the two people who’ve read it. You know who you are!) The world-building involved in getting from a known past to a future there can be an interesting theory-crafting exercise but becomes overly idealized or depressingly gritty. Neither appeals to me personally.
So I’ve found myself devoted 100% to the universe I’ve slowly built over the past decade, which I’ve come to call the Grey Empire Universe. My strongest WIP is a novel called The Thirteenth Orbit (current in a second draft and being actively beta read), set roughly 4,000 years into the established history of the world, but I’ve got unfinished projects at many points in the past and future relative to this book.
Designing a universe from the ground-up can seem a daunting task, even if you avoid the epic fantasy problem of needed a thousand or more invented names, languages, races, etc. It certainly hasn’t happened overnight, but two things about my particular non-Earth universe appeal to me – and have triggered writing this post.
Even when I was devoutly religious, I never put religion in my universe. By the time I realized this, I was years into writing the world. At first it was a curiosity – as in, “huh, I forgot the religion!” Cursory reflection quickly concluded that adding a religion in at this point would be difficult at best. Deeper reflection revealed that I liked it this way. It seems that the need for invented religions is assumed in non-Earth universes, but I have never seen it that way. My characters seem completely believable without it at all points in the universe’s history.
This is important, because I want to explore an alternate evolution of technology versus magic and organic living. The Empire is founded at the tail-end of a quasi-medieval period of my world’s history, at a critical juncture of relative influence between technology and magic. The First Dynasty suffers from a classic succession problem, where the second Empress nearly squanders the success of her father. In the end, the large Asia Minor-esque isthmus is established under central rule, and increased technological prowess allows the Empire to slowly expand and consume the independent entities of Nelara.
The principal obstacle to the Empire’s success is a magic society known as the Revealers. They made the likeliest candidate for a religion in my universe. I wrote a short story using the term priest to describe the mendicant wanderers who make up the magicians, but it didn’t work. It falls apart because magic and science in my world are two sides of the same coin. There is no act of will. No act of faith. Magic is simply an alternate set of knowledge, and the application of an alternate set of forces. Two of my protagonists are apprentice magicians, so I’ll leave the specifics for the books.
In the quasi-medieval period before the Empire’s founding and during the First Dynasty before their eradication, the Revealers’ principal function was the ‘revelation’ and interpretation of disease. In a fun bit of anachronistic (by Earth frame-of-reference) world-building, I give them the ability to visualize and manipulate DNA. Progress in agriculture and medicine is owed almost completely to them. Almost. Traditional scientific knowledge exists, even though it has to play catch-up. Concentrated in the hands of the Empire, it becomes a powerful enough substitute that the Revealers are scourged – plunging the enemies of the Empire into a Dark Age.
When, later on in the Empire, the writings of the Revealers are re-discovered by a team of free-thinking scientists searching for immortality, it triggers another war between magic and technology. Because they use different knowledge-sets and world-views, one could argue that this war (and the eternal tension in my world) is a holy war of sorts. The Empire fears magic because it can’t control it. Technology can be disseminated of course, but it is tied to an industrial complex that is far less portable, if you will, than magic. It is a political consideration. There is no act of faith. The Empire requires no worship of the ruler, nor is their any supplication required to become a novice magician – just a healthy disregard for one’s personal safety.
Plenty of magic-as-hidden-reality books are based in our world. Many of them are fantastic. But the real world doesn’t work for what I want to explore.