Thursday, February 13, 2014

Worldbuilding, uh, Thursdays: Land Beast II

I'm off to a good start with this regular writing thing.  So good, in fact, that I totally forgot that it was Wednesday yesterday.  So I'm going to have to make up for that today.  Not a great sign when you muck up your only regular feature in the second installment, but whatevs.

So let's recap what we have so far:

  • World with a large supercontinent, possibly other land aside from that but irrelevant to our purposes.
  • Hostile conditions on the ground, poisonous elements that do not support animal life, but plants have adapted to some degree. Still poisonous though.
  • Roughly a dozen gigantic creatures roam this continent, continually moving over the landscape.
  • Each creature is roughly the size of France.
  • What animal life exists is on the bodies of these gigantic creatures.
  • This included human(oid) life.  At least close enough to human that we can write human stories about them.
  • Animals and plants on creature are symbiotic with it.  Creature filters out harmful elements, returns them to soil in waste. Supported life makes use of creature's byproducts, plus fertilize/aerate/etc. in return.  This includes humans.

That seems to be the bulk of it so far.  A couple of things come to mind.  What is the structure of the Beasts, are they quadrupeds?   Where did they come from?  Were they created or did they develop that way?  How did the surface come to be poisoned?  

All valid questions, so let's cover them one by one.

I see the beasts as being sort of like semi-warm blooded lizards, thinking of the texture of the skin on things like iguanas or chameleons.  The light of the sun, which vegetation growing on them helps capture, is beneficial to them, and they have a sturdy, broad-backed (if a bit hilly on the "micro" or human level).  They have a geography, so their backs are not uniform.  The spinal ridges are like a mountain chain, think of Ayers' Rock in Australia but with more of an angled slope, and leading in a line down the length of the creature.  Climbable, and with more or less regular passes over which animals and people might cross from one side to another.  

Given the size of the creatures, they would have multiple legs.  So the quadruped notion really doesn't work.  So it wouldn't simply be a scaled-up lizard, but something a bit different than we're used to, with 10 or 20 legs total.  I'm personally inclined to go with 10 for simplicity's sake, and have a sort of Slepnir-on-steroids or chunky centipede sort of thing, but without the gross ooky aspect centipedes have.  So getting back to the concept, each leg would have a shoulderblade of sorts, which would create a significant hill that slowly moves as the beast takes a step.  

I see the beast as being relatively slow and deliberate in its walking, at least from a human perspective.  It still covers a lot of ground since while one step might take a while, it also goes a long way in human terms.  Think if France moved down to where Egypt is in the course of a year.  That's what I envision for speed.

And with that in mind, I will arbitrarily decide that the Land Beast not only doesn't stop, but can't stop.  To stop is to die for these creatures.  Perhaps the plant life is aggressive and will move up and threaten the ecosystem it carries.  Perhaps the poisons in the land are absorbed too much if it stops.  Possibly it isn't an external concern, but part of the physiology of the beast that requires constant motion to maintain homeostasis and to produce the byproducts the life on its surface relies on.

Thinking about it, I'd be inclined to go with a combination of the first and third of those ideas, with an emphasis on the third.  I like the idea of mobile, aggressive, innately poisonous plant life, occasionally managing to get up a leg and threatening the nearby creatures.  Almost animal-like plants in that sense.  It opens the door to conflict, and would probably have an effect on how human culture works in this context.

Anyhow, back to the beast and the question I'd been dreading. Where did it come from?  

This is a really hard question for me, and my brain wants to take the easy way out and not make a decision here.  But as I said last week, you really shouldn't gloss over stuff like that or you end up with "spaceships, lasers, FTL, blah blah" type stories that have window dressing but no real structure.  So I've gotta suck it up and make a choice.

First, let's see what the main choices are, as I see them.

  1. The Beast evolved to become like that.
  2. The Beast was bioengineered.
  3. The Beast was created by Gods.

All of which are valid choices, and all of them carry their own implications and further questions.

If I choose the first, then I can proceed without worrying about purpose or external influences, but I'm stuck with the responsibility of figuring out how this evolution happened, especially given the poison ground. I have to ask was it always poison/hostile?  Was this a reaction to that change in environment? If so, how did the change happen and why did it cover the whole continent?

The second choice avoids those questions, but introduces a new factor.  Who did the bioengineering?  Why?  Where did they go afterwards?  Are they still monitoring things, or did they do this and leave/die?  Are they what became the current humans?  In some ways, I'm reminded of Larry Niven's novel The Integral Trees which involves adapted descendents of a lost space colony.  Not sure I'd want to go that way.

The last is equally thorny.  Again, it saves scientific explanations, but opens up a slightly different line of questioning from the idea that aliens did it.  What God(s)?  One God or a pantheon?  Are they present and intercede in the world?  Did they turn the land poison as well?  Are they omnipotent, or are they limited (i.e., can they just fix the land if they choose)?  If Gods are real, is magic derived from them real as well?

It's a tough choice, and there may be other directions to go as well.  But I'll limit myself to these three for the purposes of this exercise.  In any case, we're worldbuilding for a purpose here, so the decision shouldn't be based on which one's easiest, or makes most sense in the real world.  It should be based on the story ideas that derive from the decision.

And with that in mind, I pick Door Number Three: God(s) Did It

Part of that is my own inclination.  I really like folklore and myth, and reading those potential choices makes the potential of a mythic origin of the poison land, the beast itself, and so forth pop up immediately.  And, by extensions, stories about the people and Gods involved in those myths.  

So the die is cast, and the creature defined.  Next week, I'll leave the overall world of the beast and start looking at the smaller world it carries on its back, and maybe touch on those mythic origins as well.  It promises to be a fun time had by all.

2 time segments

1229 words

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