And here we are, part four. I don’t know how long this series will continue–until I’ve said everything I want to say, I guess. I reckon this post is half to two-thirds of the way through. At any rate, I said last post that I would discuss our world’s culture. This is one of my favorite parts of world-building, developing cultures for the various races and nations that inhabit by universe. There are a couple of broad approaches to this step: one, to choose a culture from some point in Earth’s history and base your fictional culture around it; two, to build a completely fictional culture from scratch. Both have their own difficulties. For the first, you’ll obviously have to do a lot of research, and your fictional culture may not seem as original. The upside is that this can often give the cultures of your story world an extra level of realism, because they seem like things that really existed. It also saves you a lot of work when it comes to developing religions and government systems and the like. The other method uses a lot less research and can result in a much more unique and “alien” world. However, it’s a lot of work to create a fully-realized culture from scratch, and often you’ll end up borrowing bits and pieces of actual Earth culture anyway.
Which do I prefer? The first method, which you’ve probably already seen from the last post. We have a vast, rich history; why not draw on it? I love connecting my stories to historical and mythological civilizations and events. I feel that it gives them a heightened sense f realism and that sort of timeless quality we associate with good mythology. Also, basing fictional civilizations off of real ones can help your idea flow, give you suggestions for important historical events and such. One way to make your fictional culture seem more unique is to combine multiple cultures from Earth’s history. I’ve played around with this a little bit in a project I’m working on, creating a culture which, for example, is a mix of Feudal Japan and Medieval Ireland. Very different cultures, but both island nations with strong traditions of independence and bravery. This obviously won’t always work, but it’s something to consider when designing your world.
So, back to our world. I said previously that the gnomes were similar to the Ancient Egyptians, the fortress-dwelling humans had a civilization comparable to Western Europe in the Renaissance, and that the nomadic humans were like Touaregs, Bedouins, or Mongols. I’ll start with the humans.
So the humans on this world are descended from the crew of a crashed spaceship. The first thing we must ask is: where did this crew come from, and what nation did they serve? My thought is that this was a crew of independent researchers, which means they would likely have come from all sorts of places, and have a very mixed cultural background. Probably their initial government would have been an oligarchy of the ship’s officers, headed by a “king”–the captain. In a mysterious and hostile world, a strong central authority would likely have little trouble holding onto power. The people would need swift decision-making ability, and would thus be more likely to put decision making into the hands of one or a few leaders. So I don’t see a democracy rising. The captain and officers are not elected; the captain promotes the officers. So, it seems likely that they would continue with this system, of having the “king” appoint both his successor and his officials. From there it’s only a small step to living in fortresses. The humans would’ve probably built their first castle on the ruins of their crashed ship, building a fortress from knowledge they remembered from their history lessons. The population would then have expanded to the point where they needed to establish another fortress, and the necessity of trade between the two would give rise to the nomad class.
But I think we need to backtrack a little bit. What is it that caused the humans to regress technologically? They would probably have lost some technology over time, but not enough to send them to a Medieval level of existence. There must have been some event that caused this. It’s a harsh world; I’m thinking a combination of alien plagues and dangerous beasts killed off a large portion of the crew, probably a number of their most skilled and educated men and women. I’m going to change what I said before. The ship didn’t crash in a defensible location. It crashed in the middle of the desert. The survivors of the plagues and such were forced to leave their ship and its technology behind, or face certain death. They would’ve stopped and built their fortress as soon as they could, probably in the nearest mountains to wherever they crashed. Once they were established, they would probably have sent people to the ship, but by that time I reckon they’ve lost the knowledge to use a lot of the technology. They would’ve started with a writing system, and I doubt that would be forgotten. However, I think it’s safe to assume that none of the survivors knew how to build a printing press, and it would be awhile before one of those was re-invented. With their technology lost and no access to modern forms of communication, the epistemology of this culture would’ve gone to a Medieval level within a couple of generations. This means a totally different way of looking at the world…
Anyway, so the humans are descended from a multicultural group that lived in a fortress. They had captains which eventually morphed into kings. They set up another fortress and began trading with it, creating a new subculture, the nomads. There’s our basis. What sort of culture would develop from there? I reckon it–or at least, the fortress-dwelling half of the culture–would be one with a generally Medieval flavor, with many new traditions that have arisen on this world and were either unknown or obscure in Earth’s history. I doubt it would have a strong resemblance to any particular Earth culture, however. The nomads, on the other hand, would probably seem initially more similar to Bedouins and such of Earth. They live in a desert, so they’d naturally adopt the dark-colored robes worn by such peoples (for protection from sun, sand, and wind). Living in tents would be a necessity; but these people have giant beetles to ride around on, so perhaps they build their tents more like palanquins atop the beetles’ backs and rarely set them up on the ground. I could see them in that case creating tall, thin, yurt-like structures which would be designed to be lived in even while being transported.
Of course, now I could spend quite awhile coming up with different cultural traditions, but that’s more fine-detail stuff. Right now I’m concerned with laying down the bones, the framework. For now, I think it would be best to move on to the gnomes, who I shall talk about in my next post.