Mapping a World
It all began with a drawing. I’d been working graveyard shift as a telephone operator after graduating from high school and I had a lot of time on my hands. As I drew the outline of the Deveran continent, filled in mountain ranges, rivers and cities, my imagination conjured ideas for the people who would occupy these lands I’d created.
World building is a formidable task. It’s taken me many years to flesh out the nations I describe in the Deveran Conflict Series, but I started out with Tamaria – the high elevation landscape with waterfalls, huge lakes and broad valleys suitable for agriculture and industry. The name derives from one of King David’s daughters in the Old Testament – hers is a very sad story – and a “what if” thought. What if a powerful, industrialized nation grew out of a matrilineal society, with an immortal queen as its sovereign? What would that nation be like?
Tolkien drew maps of Middle Earth and populated the place with elves, dwarves, goblins, hobbits and people. Initially I borrowed ideas from Tolkien’s books, but the story didn’t take long to move from high fantasy into what one of my readers calls, “soft science fiction,” replacing the role of magic with science and technology, which is much better suited to the way I think.
Contrasts and Accessibility
While some readers have complained that Devera is “too much like earth,” I’d decided early on that designing a place with a poisonous atmosphere, a weird orbit that only permits life for short periods of time, or a tidally-locked planet with a narrow habitable band between one side frozen in perpetual darkness, and a searing, baking desert on the other.
While various permutations on these ideas exist, none seemed interesting to me. The milieu of a story should inform the narrative, but in order for an advanced civilization to exist, a certain degree of predictability and mildness is essential for agriculture and industry to propel human progress. Further, if the environment is so strange that readers become confused, they will abandon the story for something that makes more sense.
In Star Wars, entire planets are deserts, ice balls, steamy jungles, or oceanic, with tiny islands of sentient life. Yes, this is possible – Mars is a dry, cold desert after all, and sulfuric acid rains on Venus – I appreciate the climatic variety available on a planet like earth and created one that would be enough like our own home to be easily understood by everyone.
Growing up on the west coast of North America strongly influenced my planning. The landscape and climate I describe in Kameron is very much like California. Like Tolkien before me, I chose to associate languages with places to such an extent that my use of Spanish terms common in Southern California – like arroyo, potrero and playa in place of gulch, pasture and beach – caused consternation in readers not familiar with those words, and delight among those who were.
Writing medieval fantasy assumes a set of economic conditions that are often broken as characters step out on epic quests. In reality, only the wealthy could afford to travel in such economies. Peasants were legally tied to the land and couldn’t leave without permission from the Lord who owned them. Staying true to that kind of economy would significantly limit an adventure tale.
Even in a modern economy, being tied to a job makes “dropping everything for an adventure” unlikely. If our stories are to maintain some semblance of realism, it’s crucial to create the economic conditions under which a character COULD “drop everything.”
I started with Tamaria. Because of its high elevation landscape, cool climate and narrow, north-south valleys, feeding a large population is problematic. Grains grown on the Saradon plateau, fishing in the lakes and rivers, fruit orchards in the valleys, a culture of vegetable gardening and cattle ranching form the backbone of agriculture in the country. This is still not enough. I’ve described several times throughout the series that Tamaria is dependent on its ally, Kameron, for grain and textiles. This economic obligation leads to military obligations that are not popular in Tamaria, but essential for survival. In trade, Tamaria offers refined minerals, electricity, ethanol fuel from straw and sawdust, lumber products and manufactured goods.
In the Tamarian economic system, the means of production are owned by the people. Farming cooperatives pool their lands and share in planting, harvesting and distributing their bounty. Likewise, industry cooperatives apply for interest-free investment funds set up by shareholder-owned credit unions, in exchange for profit sharing. All employees become shareholders of the companies for whom they work, and are entitled to the same vote as everyone else. In this way, employees elect their leaders. This creates a conservative milieu in which change is approached with caution, but also protects people from the vagaries of economic ups and downs. Companies don’t lay off their workers while the executives enjoy big bonuses. Everyone shares in the success or failures of their companies.
The Tamarian government funds research and development, which drives innovation in the country. The government funds research labs – primarily through Tamaria’s university system, which is free to all citizens – and awards production licenses to companies that apply to create products. The government also invests in infrastructure, allowing quasi-independent Crown Companies to run the railroads, ports and electricity production. All of this is funded through import and resource extraction taxes, as well as profit sharing (think of it as a kind of tithe) from all production in the country. Labor and wages are not taxed. Since the government owns all land, each female head-of-household is given title to properties for their families. These can be exchanged at market rates, but because the banking system doesn’t charge interest, housing in Tamaria tends to be very stable and affordable for everyone.
The system I’ve described is modeled on the Mondrogon Cooperative in Spain. So yes, it’s not only possible, it works in the real world. I think it’s a kinder, gentler and more environmentally sensitive approach to providing for human needs.