71. 1,000. World Building.

71 is the number of draft blog posts in the file. The oldest date back over 4 years.

I looked them over briefly, with the intention of throwing out any I’d lost interest in or forgotten where I was going or covered somewhere else. One might think I’d chop, oh, half of them. One would be wrong. Single digits. The 71 are what’s left *after* the purge.

There are planned installments for the series I began on money, on how business think, on confluences versus conspiracies, on Orestes Brownson, reviews of Sci Phi Journal items, music at Mass notes on various songs, and on and on – I wanted to finish ALL of them!

I mentioned a year or so ago that I’d come across a hundred plus pages of a novel I’d started a couple decades ago, and found I rather liked what I’d written – yet, clearly, it’s not getting finished.

Then there’s the book on Catholic education I started at the beginning of the year – that’s going nowhere at the moment, and has gone nowhere over the past 6 months.

There is this story I wrote for the YA Arthurian collection being put together by Anthony Marchetta – that, when I got to writing the climactic scenes, I didn’t like enough to inflict on the world. But it’s *almost* finished.

And, of course, there’s a pile of short stories – a couple are even finished! – that have accumulated over the last 25 years. There’s another novel idea, poorly formed and expressed at the moment in the form of bits of three short stories – really, really like the idea (as Chesterton said, all stories he didn’t write were of course the best things he’d ever written) and want to get back to it.

What we have here is a sink, a low spot toward which the gravity of sloth, disorganization and lack of confidence pull 90% of the stuff I write – except, despite the 71 drafts,  blog posts. I’m approaching my 1,000th post here. I don’t know whether to celebrate, or back a figurative dump truck up the the electronic equivalent of a paper shredder.

Or I could finish up the two massive home improvement projects currently underway (Bricks. Cement. Shovels. Wheelbarrow. Dude pushing 60. Not a good combo for quick task completion.) and the one midsized (a weekend) one small (a couple hours) and one huge (probably 20-30 hours) ones I’ve got planned and then, you know, STOP. Maybe I just need a debilitating back or knee injury? (Dear Lord, I didn’t say that! I don’t mean it!). Then, you know, turn all that time and energy to writing?  Could that work?

And now an aside:

World-building. I need to seriously and consciously world build.  My first in depth experience with a built world was probably the Foundation, which, in retrospect, is essentially a one-trick pony world: nothing is significantly outlandish except for psychohistory. FTL: yawn. The futuristic gadgets are pretty tame, the social, economic and military structures have changed not at all. Characters, with the possible exception of the Mule, are standard cookie-cutter. But the Foundation (1-3, at least) remain one of my favorite books.

Since then, I’ve come to be in awe of Jack Vance and Cordwainer Smith – man, those dudes could build worlds to haunt your waking hours. Then, we have J. C. Wright, whose worlds are so complex and creative that one sometimes needs to take notes to keep up, or resign oneself to simply bathing luxuriously in the words and images. A recent awesome world-builder, a universe-builder, really, is Brian Niemeier, where new physics and cosmology are created to support a dark and original mythology of Nethereal and Souldancer.

I admire those guys, but that’s not where I’m going, or wish to go (well, I might *wish* to be Vance, Smith or Wright, but let’s not kid ourselves). The closest current author who does well what I’d like to do is Mike Flynn, especially in his Firestar universe, which encompases (I think) the Wreck of the River of Stars and some of his short stories as well. In fact, if I ever do the novel, I’ll need to send him a note – the solar sails in River of Stars are almost exactly what I had in mind 20 years ago for the interplanetary commerce I’d imagined for this world I’d like to build, and I won’t be able to get the whole Age of Sail dynamic he builds for the crew out of my head. He has, of course, magnetic solar sails using Hobartium superconducting hoops and Farnsworth Cages that make them obsolete – cool. I just need my ships to get around the planets, and thus was planning to go for the classic Star Trek approach: Q: How does that work? A: Very well, thank you.

Also need to figure out how *not* to let certain tropes ruin the story. For example, nanotech tends toward immortality – once you start having tiny machines repair cells, why would anyone get old? Yet long-term exposure to cosmic and solar radiation coupled with bone loss due to weightlessness would seem to make manned interplanetary commerce a real buzz-kill, to say the least. One might have nanotech to keep people in space alive better, but have some other device so that it doesn’t make them immortal (immortality being kind of boring, to me, at least.) Do we go all Dune, and make up a reason why all this advanced tech can’t be used as it obviously would be used, so that we can have sword fights, as it were?

Then there’s what to do about the generational long ships: part of the set up for this universe is, of course, the culture(s) you’d need to establish and support in order for a ship with thousands in it to survive intact with the passengers and crew and ready to settle once they get where they’re going. One of the intriguing things here for me is throwing out all the radical individualism: John Locke, meet air lock. Yet, at the same time, if we’re going to become a hive, who cares if we settle the stars? (I should read more Gene Wolfe – I got the Long Sun books on the shelf – since he deals with this.)

Finally – and this is the original seed of the idea – I’ve long wondered at the assumption present in virtually all stories with alien life I’ve ever read, that earth life could survive direct contact with alien life (and visa-versa). Virtually all the drama (notable exceptions include: War of the Worlds) occurs on a macro-level: alien beasties eating us, etc. What would really be the problem is stereoisomers or close mimics to proteins and critical biochemicals. The dance of cellular metabolism grinds to a halt or worse when key reactions get gummed up with molecules that are sufficiently like the natural target to initiate a reaction, but sufficiently different to prevent proper functioning. Think kuru or mad cow disease – misshapened prions displace healthy prions and effectively commandeer the cellular machinery to replicate themselves.

Earth life typically uses only one isomer of a given protein or other biochemical, even though mixing the biochemical up in an Erlenmeyer flask will produce two or more isomers in roughly the same numbers. In other world, life shows a strong preference for one and only one isomer among the two or more versions that chemistry treats indifferently.

So, either there’s some hidden bias in the base biochemistry that favors one form – no evidence for this – or it’s just a matter of luck that one form only got produced by actual living things here on earth, and so became standard, as it were – at least here. Elsewhere? If the isomer used is just the one that happened to get into production first, then alien life might look (at least chemically) just like  earth life, but use a chemistry subtly incompatible with earth life. You could have an Eden which will kill you with the likes of kuru or starvation, because you body chemistry gets clogged up or commandeered by almost but not quite identical native biochem.

Having people walk around on planets with native life seems about as dumb, to me, as the air being assumed breathable and the natives speaking English. Hey, nanotech! The solution, sort of….

 

 

 

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Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

3 thoughts on “71. 1,000. World Building.”

  1. In point of your story….you might STILL have caught a break. One author dropped out, and I’m still in the middle of the frame story. If you do ever finish it and want me to take a look, you won’t be too late to get it in until probably October.

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