[[Vaal’s Note: sorry this is late. I could lie and say I was sick or busy, but the truth is, I got my royalties for last month and bought the entire series of Avatar: the Last Airbender, and Darkwing Duck. You can do the math.]]
‘Earth Plus’ is a term I came up with back in my days of frequenting the Wizards of the Coast forums. It was born from a certain level of frustration with a certain school of roleplaying game thinking where everything n the game’s setting should simulate Earth-normal conditions except for the explicit fantasy elements.
This often manifested in things like there needing to be a cap on how far a character can jump with the jump skill ‘because the best Olympic long jumper can only jump X feet’, completely ignoring that a) not everyone attempting these jumps are human, b) the humans themselves live in a land of magic and alchemical substances everywhere and might not have the same limits as Earth humans and c) the world itself might not obey our world’s physics. The Mystra setting, for example… is on the inside of its planetary sphere.
When this extends to other media, this manifests more strong, with the setting not only being on a planet that follows all the rules of Earth despite naturally-occurring magic or different races, but the world is generally rooted in the writer’s (often poor) understanding of life in Medieval Europe, from the technology to the society.
Don’t get me wrong: Earth Plus isn’t inherently bad. Lord of the Rings takes place in Europe with different races and some magic. My long-time favorite series, Wheel of Time is largely this writ large with further counterparts to Asia and Africa. Top notch videogames like The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion and Dragon Age rock this without it taking away from my enjoyment of them. And Slayers and Rune Soldier still rank as two of my favorite anime series.
However. I feel like a lot of writers try really, really hard to enforce Earth Plus. I’m not even saying it’s being lazy because in a lot of cases, it seems like a concerted effort on the writer’s part to ‘hold back’ the logical progressions of their world’s set-up to make everything Earth-compliant.
The interaction of magic and technology is a big one. Let’s get this straight: technology is not blinking lights and buttons. Any way in which a creature uses its natural environment in a manner that performs work is technology. The thrown rock is technology. The termite fishin’ stick is technology.
As demonstrated by Dr. Bobo T. Chimp from the University of Eekeekook.
If magic is presented as a force that basically anyone can access to some extent and people use it to perform work, then it is, in fact technology. And the thing that sets humans apart is our ability to refine and build off of previous technology. Which is why it’s really disappointing in settings where people discovered a spell to conjure stone and earth, yet still live in thatch huts.
This article (can you believe that was all intro?) is about why I chose not to make Ere something different from Earth Plus and how I went about it. Starting with the most obvious…
Magic is Technology
Where a lot of Fantasy stories lose me is when magic is… lacking. I am a child of the 80’s, so when a story is trying to show me that their magic is cool, they’re competing with He-Man and the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon, where magic was basically easy and plentiful. I grew up watching and reading very high-magic stories and that’s what I’ve gotten a taste for.
What I started to notice though is that in a lot of high-magic settings, magic is used only for combat and other sort of on the spot problem-solving. When someone does use magic for mundane stuff like using a fireball to start a campfire, it’s usually played for laughs.
This doesn’t make a lot of sense from the standpoint of someone in-universe. The ability to make fire on demand is the ability to make energy on demand and even if you can’t sustain that fire, it changes things pretty drastically. More important than that is water-generation. Imagine a world where being near a water source isn’t a prerequisite for early human (or demihuman) settlement. In face, since predators frequent water sources, most early settlements would be far away from water, only developing near it once trade becomes the order of the day.
On Ere, we see this in the form of a lot of the major cities. While trade hubs like Kinos and Rivenport exist, in the new series, Soul Battery (Coming this November!), we’ll see Spinar and Haprsfell. Spinar is the Calleni capital, situated on the plains with no visible watershed. While there are wells, the plentiful use of akua crea supplements them to the point that being an akua mage is a valid career path if you can produce a goodly number of barrels of water a day.
Harpsfell is even more extreme. Not only is it a city on a series of plateaus (water tends to run right off the top of plateaus, but it is built at the edge of Ere’s arctic circle, meaning it’s below zero degrees most of the time. The answer to this is of course using magic on a grand scale to trap heat all over the city (in the story, Pele notices Harpsfell first by the bubble of heat-haze on the horizon) and making water move upward to service the city’s needs.
But those are examples no one but my inner circle has read yet. Let’s look at something that has appeared in the published books: magical reinforcement. Using the power of ere-a, the people of Ere are able to build structures that we aren’t able to before out architectural and materials science improved significantly. Instead of steel, they’re able to raise solid slabs of rock out of the earth, then reinforce them magically beyond the limits of actual steal and without the processing.
Speaking of processing, there is steal on Ere, but because a mage of minor talent (but not just anyone) can set up a flaer array that takes the energy the sun blasts onto the planet and convert it into a fire, there will likely never be a fuel crisis on Ere, as industry needs neither wood nor coal. Ere has several societies that have just embarked on their industrial revolutions that are never going to need to worry about air pollution (Much. The actual chemical processes are not magic and do produce waste products, just not great black clouds of soot that cause moths to evolve).
Their revolution is going to grow in complexity much faster too, as a ferif master can create precision metal tools with ease. The existence of clockworks and steam power already indicates that they have the basic understandings of machine logic and with vox as an existing type of wireless conduit… the sky is the limit for how things will progress and what things they’re going to miss because they never needed to build the core principles. Materials science, for example, is going to suffer greatly on Ere. And because they have less incentive to mess around with, say, oil, plastic is a long, long way away for the people of Ere.
Medicine will also be an issue. Even thought they have a head start in knowing the diseases are cause by organisms (because magical healing promotes disease), the fact that they can heal with magic means that they won’t put much effort into internal medicine and surgery as well as mental disorders for quite a while.
Beyond the science however, there are other, more fundamental things that are different, especially since…
The Humans Aren’t Earth Humans
‘No human can do that’ is the rallying cry of people who complain about action movies and fantasy gaming. It is more important to them that every bone in John Mclane’s legs snap like matchsticks when he jumps down from one section of roof from another in Die Hard than it is for him to be awesome and save the day.
I know someone in the comments or on the forum is going to have a passionate defense of this attitude, but the point here isn’t to say you’re wrong, just that I don’t share it. I think that it’s more fun to just accept that people in movie-verse are made of sterner stuff unless we’re informed otherwise.
The that end, I’ve done my best to make it clear that humans in the World of Ere are not Earthlings dumped off in another world. For one, they were brought to Ere during Saint’s Landing but from three different worlds (I think Kaiel points this out in Lighter Days, Darker Nights).
For another… Chordinis are blue.
Maybe there was more blue food on their planet.
They’re blue. They have a slight bluish tinge to their pale skin. It is not because they are cold, it is because they have a different pigment from melanin in their skin. There are just different chemicals on Ere. Chemicals that have been formed due to magic or just different lifeforms and the humans eat, drink and breathe these different chemicals and it changes their physiology.
The practical upshot is that yes, Ere humans work a bit differently from us. Some toxins and allergens don’t work on them, some work better. They are physically more durable and have better average endurance and strength. It’s not massively different, but if there was such a thing, a good Ere high-school athlete would be professional class on Earth and a professional would be able to beat our Olympians most of the time.
Most of the time.
Plus, their lifestyles are different, largely because…
Their Societies Are Different
I’m not going to pretend I didn’t draw inspiration from historical civilizations for Ere. I will say that I don’t think I’ve created many direct analogs. The Calleni tribes have some Mogolian DNA in them as well as a few Native American tribes. Novrom is the United States circa 1850 if the Federal Government had zero power (and yes, states did go to war over territory back then, but they weren’t allowed to set up entire new forms of government like the Novs do).
I also don’t try and pretend to mirror my idea of medieval society. Religion isn’t the major power in (most) of the world; people take a very Roman attitude– gods are cool and all, people go to their parties or devote themselves, but no one is actively afraid of any churches. In fact, there are a couple of religions or sects that they should be afraid of but they legitimately don’t see churches as powerful enough to be a threat.
We’re going to see in Soul Battery that Chordin even has a defacto state religion that still isn’t the biggest player in politics even though if the goddess telling them what to do takes her ball and goes home, they all starve. It’s just that if the Bardic College or the Spellcrafters Union pull up roots, they’ll become irrelevant to the rest of the world.
And so we get to the portion of the article where I reveal why this particular discussion came up. I know some of you are tired of my talking about it, and I don’t really want to be an issue wonk, but yet the wonks have my email address and they like to push my buttons.
At least once a month, someone reads Rune Breaker, either here or the ebooks, and they feel the need to excoriate me on how there wouldn’t ‘really’ be female warriors running around like that in such numbers and there totally wouldn’t be a female ship’s captain, and there would certainly be no women working in a library ‘back then’. They also like to call my heavy use of female characters as being ‘PC’.
Twice now, I’ve been asked if I were a woman because of this which… I have no idea. The fun part is, both times they decided to make fun of my name. Just so you know, ‘Landon’ is either a derivative or a root for ‘Lance’, which is the most phallic of weapons. It’s a guy’s name. I’m a guy. I just don’t see the same problem you see, dude.
Ere isn’t Earth. It’s not the past. In fact, this has never been a ‘thing’ on Ere. Everyone is a badass on Ere if they a) live outside of a major city and b) live to the age of twelve. Ere is not as bad as Faerie in this respect, but Ere is a Death World. There are super-powered, immortal porcupines and possums out there and neither of those things is played for laughs. The ‘normal’ animals are freaking dinosaurs and aurochs, and flying snakes with venom that will kill you, then kill whatever eats your corpse.
On this world, at any moment, demons could be declared, or the family dog (well, bear. Bears are domesticated on Ere) might digivolve to champion and try to kill everyone.
In this situation, you do not tell someone they can’t learn to fight because of what’s between their legs. In fact, you teach everyone to fight whether they want to or not. That’s an actual plot point in Evil Unto Evil. There are a lot of theories on why so many Earth societies decided they really, really hate women, but let me tell you, there is enough going on on Ere that no one has any time for that bullshit.
Well the good news is that it’s not based on skin color. It’s more of a nationalism then and a system of stereotypes based on race as in ‘species’. It’s also a more personal or small-scale thing. They’re not going to see a lot of institutional racism because again, you want everyone working together to fight together, but the hailene mixed ‘master race’ bullshit with nationalism to make a genocide cocktail that shows that yes I totally did lift from certain societies and now a TON of people hate the crap out of the hailene even five hundred years after the fact.
But again, it’s something where a town will all hate them because one of the best storytellers is racists and now everyone grows up thinking hailene all eat babies, the place down the hill is only just wary because some hailene have been jerks to them, but hailene were nice to the people across the river, so they’re cool with them, but not their history. Ere never had an East India Company to invent widespread institutional racism so making rum would be cheaper.
It’s an insidious little thing though. We have Ru of all people pointing out how flawed it is for Brin to say nasty things about miare in Lighter Days, Darker Nights, which makes Kaiel fret. However, in Evil Unto Evil, Kaiel then casually uses the term ‘savage races’ and gets schooled on it. In Rakne’s Tale: Hearing of Grievances, we also learn another flaw of the bardic way, namely that they’re perpetuating stereotypes via dime novels.
Having multiple sapient species also causes some interesting quirks. For example, if you want to be a cosmopolitan venue, you’ll need to be able to seat folks with wings, people half as tall as yourself, and people four times as heavy. I play around a lot with Pele not being able to sit comfortably in a lot of places because, again, a lot of people hate hailene and won’t buy hailene chairs.
Once we dive into Soul Battery, we’ll see that Harpsfell (a city that is as if New York and Las Vegas had a drunken one night stand) has things like an extra set of smaller steps everywhere for halflings and spas there have different toiletries for different species (minotaurs need hoof and horn wax, hailene need preening kits, miare need special body brushes…)
There’s more, but I’m on page five already and this is late as it is. Part 2 will be next week unless something more interesting springs to mind.
I’d like to remind you guys that A MagiTech Crisis (The Descendants Basic Collection #4) and Rakne’s Tale: Hearing of Grievances are on sale right now, so if you haven’t taken the opportunity to contribute to the delinquency of an author, there you go.
Also, for those of you looking for more awesome free entertainment, the Pen and Cape Society is doing a Choose Your Own Adventure style project this month and into September starring the Society’s own original character, Willow. You can read the first leg and then vote on the next choice here.
“The termite fishin’ stick is technology.”
For a moment there I wondered why someone wouldn’t consider fishing with explosives to be technology.
Also, you messed up two youtube videos and the text between them got caught.
Also holy crap if there ever was something I don’t care about people ignoring in their made up fantasy magic worlds of imagination, it’s sexism.
“we also learn another flaw of the bardic way, namely that they’re perpetuating stereotypes via dime novels”
New York, Las Vegas AND Hollywood. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before some enterprising illusionist invents blockbusters.
There are illusion shows. There might be one in the second Soul Battery book.
“…someone in the comments or on the forum is going to have a passionate defense of this attitude…”
Okay I’m not actually going to disagree, I see your point here and all but I do feel it should be said that a large part of the issue is simply terminology and reappropriation thereof.
You see, if your setting has shmeerps but you call them ‘rabbits’ or ‘humans’, people will have wrong expectations about them. If the differences are obvious enough they’ll generally soon get the hint, but if the shmeerp kind of looks like a rabbit and kind of acts like a rabbit, it’s easy to attribute the differences to the author being clueless about rabbits.
Would have linked the tvtropes article about this, but didn’t because they can’t spell ‘shmeerp’ correctly.
Is Smeerp a real thing? Well not real, but something from a story?
And I get where you’re coming form, but at the same time, it stands to reason that a rabbit that’s deepfried and glazed in magic isn’t going to be like a normal rabbit. For one, it would be more delicious.
Shmeerps are indeed a thing, they’re the made-up foreign-sounding words so common in fantasy literature. The term was coined by James Blish as far as I know.
And despite what tvtropes editors think, there’s an h in shmeerp.
Btw if you look up ‘smeerp’ without the h in wikipedia it redirects to ‘rabbit’.
And some fools still think wikipedia is serious business…
Oh yeah and anticipating the next question, the correlation of shmeerps and rabbits comes from Orson Scott Card’s book ‘How to Write Science & Fantasy’ where he speaks against giving fantastic names (shmeerps) to ordinary things, using rabbits as an example.