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August 5, 2009
Shared World: Kimet, Oikoumene, Aether
Posted by Nithska
If you are just stumbling across this post, here is some background information. First, thank twitter for the M-Brane SF Shared World project, which started out as a conversation over there. Essentially "Hey, let's do a shared world issue of M-Brane." Chris Fletcher answered this call to adventure with the epic affirmation... "Ok."
Shared World, Whaaa?
The two literary SF shared worlds I am most familiar with are Harlan Ellison's Medea, and Poul Anderson's Murasaki. The former I have not read, the latter I have. In the Amazon link to Murasaki, it is described as a 'scaled down version of Medea'. My memory of the stories matches the description of a novel in six parts, by six writers, instead of independent stories. And of Medea, reviews have described it as 'better in concept than execution' and noted the tedium of some of the supporting materials included in the book.
Early on it was determined that a 'bible' for the project, separate from the project itself, would be created and possibly modified as stories are written that modify conditions in the world. I like that. I'm not interested in showing off how clever or cliched I may be at conceiving ideas, but rather I want to contribute to something that is entertaining. So we came up with some base ideas. Now, go read through the Shared World entries over at M-Brane SF to catch up. I'll wait for ya.
And you can also check out my own posts on the subject, especially those that relate to the 'open sourcing' of the milieu.
Ancient Astronauts, Aether, Oh gods....
So, first, we aren't writing from the point of view of a bunch of Von Daniken nutjobs. But rather: what if some ancient civilization were uplifted just enough to experience industrial revolutions, and what if they were spurned, for some reason, toward a space race and full-fledged space faring cultures?
From here on out, we are talking proposal-level stuff on my part that may or may not end up in the final project bible.
Alternate histories in which defunct cultures become dominant abound: Thomas Harlan has a series of books in which Aztecs become a space faring civilization (great space opera, by the way), in addition to the myriad alt-histories in which the South won the civil war, or the Axis won world war II.
So we're not just talking a 'things worked out differently' kind of scenario, but we also don't want the 'man couldn't possibly have built the pyramids' tripe either.
More interesting is this non-SF question: "Why didn't ancient societies have industrial revolutions?" Egypt alone existed long enough that we could conceive it. Greece had minds keen enough to spurn innovation. But it didn't happen. Why?
The writers involved so far are keen on minimal alien intervention. The next question is: what minimum intervention would achieve the goals of industrial revolution leading to a space race?
At a glance, my thought is a single technology: the printing press. Circa 1200 BCE Two Lands, aka Kimet, what we call Egypt, already understood that their civilization was started by the gods. What if those gods left this one, critical present behind? What if high literacy rates due to mass production of texts existed into the forgotten past for the Egyptian society. And what if the Persians and Greek states were forced to compete with this society?
And then there is the Aether, beckoning above. What is it; why is it? Still debated.
Kimet, Oikomene, Aether
I propose that this first issue focus on societies around the Mediterranean sea. If we are successful, we can have a second issue focusing on other societies.
The first issue would have three sequences, with a first crop of stories centered in Egypt and their alternate history. Circa 1200 BCE is that time that we know most about from film and adventure stories. It's a good starting point and allows enough time for the industrial revolution so that by the time we reach Circa 415 BCE in the Greek world, sequence two, we have an industrialized Egypt dominating the part of the world and the great thinkers and warriors of the the Greek states rising to the challenge of Kimet.
What of the Persians? They were perhaps the primary threat to both societies in our time line. There is a lot of material to explore here. What of the tribes of Israel and others along the trade routes leading into and out of the fertile crescent?
Our last story sequence would focus on the mature, space-faring civilizations that I imagine existing by year 0, our reckoning. Maybe in the aether there is unmistakable signs of life up there (not necessarily intelligent, but maybe Niven-esque floating forests, ect., which compels the trek up and out). There is still work to be done regarding what this Aether is. Natural or artificial? Transitory or permanent? Is it 'just the way it is' without explanation, much as some ancient societies expected: the air filling all of space. Or is it something we can imagine on a scientific level?
Tales of Wonder
The Tales of Wonder --this is real, not made up-- were written about 1700 BCE and were read by those with access in 1200 BCE. They take place in the Pyramid Age in a royal court where a prince tells his father magical tales of kings past. Then there is The Spells for Going Forth by Day which would be commissioned for a person's burial. These were imaginative, dynamic people. In Kimet, there were even business women, though a girl's options were limited compared to a boy's. These were people, living within the constraints of their world.
What I propose most of all are SF stories about how technology changes this society which was highly conservative in its fashion, and successful because of that traditional bent. Followed by conflict, on small and large scale, as we expand our focus out to the surrounding societies. And a culmination in the expansion into Aether.
It could be that this is all just back-story and most writers will choose to write stories of the Aether Age. But I wanted to take some time to share my thoughts about how we get there.
I picked up a couple nice pop-history books in the Metro Books 'Traveller's Guide to the Ancient World' to supplement my wikipedia searches. These are not deep, scholarly books, but they were inexpensive and have helped me to brainstorm what I'd like to write about. A good starting point is those known events in history, and how they may have been affected by this alternate timeline.
Ready, Set, Write...
There is so much material that we could cover, that perhaps the best way to get this rolling is just to decide on beginning conditions, and points along the way that will be true (ie, Greece, Egypt, and China are space faring by our year 0.), as well as 'out of bounds' rules (no alien visitations to earth; no absolute destruction of a given civilization).
I'm looking forward to this and hope you choose to contribute to both the world building and the stories. Because bottom line, good stories are the only reason to do something like this. Head over to M-Brane SF and kick in. Have fun!