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Before the Beginning

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It’s a little early, perhaps, but there’ve been some questions and comments that lead me to think it might be worthwhile to reveal where and how Seeking North was born.  What follows is the email I sent to Jane and Carolyn the morning after we decided we wanted to have some fun…

Seeking North

World conceived in the post-dawn hours of several days in September when Talis Kimberly’s Kitchen Heroes was in heavy rotation on my CD/alarm clock

The world is a familiar place: the sun is yellow; the moon is singular, large, and pale.  It’s a big world, with oceans and continents in familiar quantities.  Arsenic-laced DNA notwithstanding, the people are just like us; ditto the chemistry, the physics, the biology, etc.  etc.  (But, just in case you thought it was too familiar, while there is a northern pole star, it’s a big red star and in most parts of the world it’s known as the Cat’s Eye.)

When push comes to shove, the world is a lot like the world of DC Comics – you know, the world where the United States has two major cities: Gotham and Metropolis, and they’re both New York.  (Julie Schwartz once tried to convince me that Metropolis was Philadelphia…but, I mean, really…Superman…in Philadelphia????)

Anyway, this world that is familiar was inflating in a year that was very much like 2007 and it crashed in a year that was quite a bit like 2008…only it crashed harder.  Currencies deflated, economies de-globalized, the equivalent of the Baltic Dry Index sank to single digits, infant mortality surged, life expectancies plummeted, and—no great surprise—overall populations dwindled.  Over the course of fifty years, in a country that is not the United States, the population fell from 300 million to barely 200 million.

There were no great wars, at least not of the mutually-assured-destruction Armageddon variety.  There were many smaller wars, most of which burnt themselves out in a decade or so.  There was no single pandemic, no world-wide plague of locusts wiping out all the crops everywhere.  But some people starved and many, many more died of causes that plentiful food and/or medicine would have prevented.

Technology has not exactly been lost, but it has become attenuated.  A few places have become citadels of tech and trade, but a lot more look like Detroit.  Knowledge hasn’t been lost, either, but fewer people have access to it.  There’s more superstition (and religion) and quite a bit of snake-oil chicanery.  The vast majority of “magicians” are charlatans, but there’s something brewing, especially in the areas of clairvoyance and telepathy.  Odds are it’s tech, not magic, but if it’s tech, no one knows where it’s coming from.

Even in the citadels, self-reliance is essential and ingenuity is king (from mule-pulled not-Cadillacs to solar- and muscle-powered cell phones.)  Frontiers, in a sense, have re-emerged and that has taken some of the pressure off.  There are dangerous/lawless areas, but we’re nowhere near anarchy.

In mood, the milieu is stuck in 1933.  Most people think the cup is half-full and evaporating fast, but there are optimists…and some of them are thriving.  Those rare people who take the long view believe that the current moment is pivotal if their world is to avoid a complete descent into a new Dark Ages: In another generation, both tech and knowledge will have been lost, perhaps forever.

Not a lot, and, already, quite a bit has been stretched and snipped away from its original shape.  (The mule-drawn Cadillacs just didn’t work in my story once I started writing it…but at least it’s possible to prove that mules were there from before the beginning)

Carolyn, btw, hadn’t seen much of New Directions when she started The Lineman and the Wizard and I didn’t read her prose until after I’d posted the last of New Directions last week.  This was not an oversight.  Carolyn and I are veterans of several shared-world projects.  We’ve learned that the first thing you do is lay claim to some territory and a lot of nouns, because while the goal is sharing, you can’t share what isn’t yours.

Once Jane lays her first round of territory and nouns on the table we’ll each study everything carefully — like vultures eyeing what the lions have left behind.  It may be difficult — there are only three of us — but there will be plotting (and I don’t mean of the literary kind) and double dealing…or what Carolyn calls “But little did he know….”

(As in…but little did he know that the city he’d always known as Z____ was called B____ by the folk who’d lived there before the Crash…)

This is also one reason why we haven’t been in a rush to tidy things up into epub or prc formats.  It may be a bit counter-intuitive, but once an author’s got the story worked out, it’s usually not too much of a hassle to pick it up and move it a thousand miles and/or change the climate.

I’m not sure that that’s going to happen.  We may be able to get our plots and characters interacting without revising the world, but it’s definitely too soon to say that we know how this world of ours is put together

2 comments to Before the Beginning

  • kokipy

    I hadn’t seen this entry until just now. Very interesting!

  • The glimpse at the first inspiration and seeing what that has actually become (so far) makes it interesting to see the process in action. The changes, what we see with Deke’s family and with Jess make better dramatic sense and better common sense.

    It’s been a long time since I saw No Blade of Grass but the bit with the horse-drawn Cadillacs (great iconic image) reminds me of that, and of Mad Max / Road Warrior. However, the change from the story pitch to the draft means that’s not even at issue.

    Heh, “ther city you call Z____ which we here call B____” really would work if there’s a good reason for it. One of the “Aix” cities and Aachen, for example, differ because the two languages changed the original words, while other cities might have original names that changed to a whole new name in one country but got either a different name or a transformation of the original name in another country.

    Whether psychic powers, things like telepathy or precognition and so on, are more “science fiction” or “fantasy” elements really depends on someone’s stance on such abilities. If there’s a technological underpinning, enhancing the senses and communications, or whether we have latent senses whose inputs we don’t yet know are there, or whether there’s something else entirely…is up to the authors; it’s a story, fiction, a tale; and the readers can/should just follow along with the storyteller’s tale. Besides, I grew up reading Andre Norton and other authors, who included the possibility (or likelihood) of such senses in their stories, and it goes all the way back to prehistoric (oral tradition) widespread belief in some sort of senses, natural or supernatural. Who am I to argue with the stories of every known Earth culture? So, whatever approach the authors take, as long as the story’s good, as a reader, I’m along for the ride.

    What a neat look at the creative process.

    Apparently, one of my cats wants to comment too, since he keeps winding back and forth between me and my keyboard and screen. He’s probably wanting equal time fot the cats, or a fish story… or else he just wants attention and away from my other cat, who’s being a pesky adolescent lately.

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