Imagine a world where the air is hostile to life as we know it and the only way to move out of all but a tiny number of corners of the planet is inside machines and habitats. How about epic wars between increasingly sophisticated high-tech ships? What if the clones of captains and crews are all that’s left after the civilians were lost in a global catastrophe?
That world is here...it’s on Earth. You just have to think small.
During my quest to understand pretty much everything (nerd!) led me to dig into smaller and smaller elements of life I recently hit a point where not only did it feel like things couldn’t get any smaller, but I noticed by telling the story by anthropomorphizing what are basically strands of RNA (standard RNA World theory) then the view from there is pretty freakin’ epic!
I’m a bit of a geek (I know, you guys are all just fainting left and right from the shock of that surprise), and I tend to be more of a Brandon Sanderson/RPG World mindview when creating a universe...make some solid rules and then breaking things a few times and seeing what happens. So that’s our starting point...the rules.
- We are creating a world where chunks of code and molecular machines are sentient.
They must be easily identified with as ‘people’ as is humanly possible (heh).
- Beneath that, the backbone is science.
As new things are constantly being discovered we’ll have to have a good attitude with lots of enthusiasm towards rewriting our stories with big universe-spanning revisions to keep up with reality. (Like an RPG/Textbook)
- Within those constraints, make it as fun and engaging as possible
- Last, have supporting documents showing not just where reality and fantasy diverge but also how awesome that reality is. (These also must be organic)
And that’s it! So basically we’re turning chunks of sentient data into engaging people, we’re treating this like a textbook of awesome, and we’re making it fun.
So, how does it look in practice?
I visualize it a bit like a set of RPG rulebooks, and this view has really worked for me. It’s really new to be creating a sci-fi/fantasy universe with really hard constraints set by reality. I tend to throw myself a bit too much into the perspective of my character and find it hard not to break the game with perfectly sensible things like instant portable barriers or molotov cocktails that contain barrels of oil with Shrink Item and Gelatinous Cube grenades with Polymorph and Dispel Magic, and I generally have to self-ban myself from the whole school of illusion.
Something about those firm constraints of reality really does help the creative process. I think I stumbled across something nifty there. I am of course a complete amateur at every subject matter in question so this is just a starting point, but I think even now the thing taking form demonstrates some of the the potential.
I think eventually this (or something better) should take over everything from Tolkien to D&D and should be turned into books and movies and games that are read and played in schools while kids are learning about evolution and biology.
Warhammer 40K has a few good starting points, too.
So, with without further gilding the lily and no more ado, let’s start with our protagonists, shall we?
The People of the Linden Tree
Our protagonists started as one of a number of tribes competing in a small corner of a harsh world that used a strange, overly complex tree said to have fallen from space as their totem.
Unlike in our world, there are a small number of other common sentient species that often work together in small groups each taking advantage of their innate skills (yes, there are times when some of them are kind of racist about it).
Eventually, in their sci-fi future, they learned to create what they needed to break out of the tiny confines of the world they knew (a world more like Venus than our own)...something analogous to a submarine and a spaceship, riding in naturally forming organic bubbles that could survive in far harsher climates and eventually beginning to modify them for their own use. Because it was a complex and dangerous process, specialized crews were sent as a sort of AI that were initially copies of their natural selves but over millions of years became more and more specialized. Just like us, they created everything from pirate ship to lifeboats to battleships.
Even those who went to form (largely) peaceful collections of cities those who were willing to be engineered to be better at the realities of life.
Their saga spans billions of (our) years, starting at their own tribal age, reaching the current day as something more akin to the Warhammer 40K universe (about the closest comparison I can come up with ATM...but you guys should know me by now, it’ll be weirder and more delightfully wrong), and eventually hopefully leading to their (and our) escape into space.
If they only could find a seed of that long extinct Linden Tree hidden somewhere...
The Linden Tree is an admittedly geeky reference to the dude who is pretty much the inventor of Modern Taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus. His father had to adopt one to attend University and was inspired by the lime (Linden) tree at his home.
Much is also about the RNA world theory above, there’s a great few presentations here from Harvard for free (Yale also has some good ones)
That little summary covers over 4 billion years so it’s obviously pretty sparse, but we’re hitting on key events like the invention of the cellular membrane and multicellularity and the evolution in humans all in one pass, we’ll hit on details.
I really like that Venus parallel, because it makes them forming huge collections of specialized city/ships connected together make a lot of sense and easy to connect with. So, continuing from there...
Imagine a world where you and your people can only survive in hidden pockets of deep, dark oceans where food and warmth burst from the surface.
Venus is probably the easiest comparison, if life could scrape away somewhere hidden recess of a deep ocean there. And their planet hasn’t become any more hospitable over the millennia, in fact it’s just gotten worse (more than once partly their fault)
In addition, every 30 million years their world crosses a cloud of ...something... and for a few million years there’s an entirely new resource to exploit and those who can utilize it quickly flourish, only to fade away abruptly. For them, magic periodically appears and vanishes.
It is a harsh, desolate world but they’ve managed to spread from their tiny little crevices to blanket the entire planet in huge collections of city-domes and roving nation-battleships.
They have only just recently managed to escape the gravity well of their planet thanks to a strange experiment in collective emergent intelligence snuck into the system like a virus by renegade librarian-tech-priests.
The various ships and cities are cells, and everything from a virus to a bacterium to a sloth has another amazingly complicated and fascinating layer to them.
From their perspective, our protagonists have indeed been directly responsible for at least one global catastrophe (the Great Oxygenation Event) and very likely many more.
The 30 million year magic thing is actually based on science and a lot of evidence. The only thing we’re adding there is that it’s not just the iron in the core of our planet that’s impacted by this new resource but that our own biological machines can do the same thing (given that they can form proteins into a lattice that can trap an atom, it’s within the realm of plausibility). The net result is that for a brief stretch a set of code/people that are largely dormant suddenly has a massive advantage, and they then lose it abruptly.
It actually seems to work as two 60+ million cycles that last about 3 million years, but the dark matter is actually distributed more above the galactic disk so on the downward cycle there’s an abrupt cutoff of magic and on the upward cycle there’s abrupt appearance.
The experiment in collective emergent intelligence is culminating in, yes, humans. If each neuron is a city containing millions of people (we’ve gotten VERY complicated over the ages) then the effect of our brains has to be collective. So, our intelligence is the result of them taking care of business, flicking switches, doing general maintenance, and making decisions like voting.
So, now that we’re rolling, let’s start working on our ‘Monster Manual’ of sorts. What would a real creature look like from their perspective now?
Captain Rina Susan was the Captain Susan of the 6117th Amabari Integrative Research/Exploration Vessel (Version 41).
The Susans were experimental androids composed of several different personalities designed with a high level of variance. At that time her vessel was a sleek and fast moving marvel of modern engineering, very different from her current appearance.
Being only weeks on the field when the Great Falling happened, they were thrown into chaos when she was little more than a young adult. The Susans were primarily stationed away from the civilians and were ordered to remain guarding the Protectorate. Deducing the likely damage to the civilian populace they petitioned (along with the Deschanels) to be allowed to undergo a rescue mission. They were denied and eventually chose to disobey their orders and start a rescue mission of their own.
Unfortunately, they were caught before they begun and only a small number of them managed to escape. The Deschanels were completely wiped out and only a few dozen Susans remained. They quickly decided that it was worth the risk even to save a small number of innocents and raced to a nearby orphanage/training center with all the speed they could muster. They lost many of the rest of their number to the Protectorate and a the all but Rina during one of the fluctuations, but she and her crew eventually arrived.
What they found was death.
“How long?” Rina asked the first Coroner.
“A day. Maybe two. Not very long at all.” He replied.
“We spent more than that talking about what to do.”
“We did. I lay more blame on the Protectorate though, without them we could have saved millions.”
Rina sighed, then suddenly squared her shoulders. “Add them to the eternal roster.”
“Sir, we’ve got a crew of twenty seven, we’re not expected to have to fill more than a dozen slots for decades.”
“Can you somehow use the ship’s adapting ability? I’ll give you all the authority you need. This will be our primary focus until I say otherwise. Understand?”
He shrugged,“You know I’ll try. When do I stop?”
“You do your best work when I let you shoot for the stars. Let me know when you have them all. Every child you can find, when we’re done with the broken ones, we’ll start adding as many as we can find to the roster”
They got millions in that first year. They would have gotten more, too, had not magic abruptly returned.
Then the children began to wake...
The Necropolis (or the Ark of Lost Children to some) has since begun to duplicate and has spread throughout much of the known world.
During most of the cycle they are hunting machines, adding every child they can find to their eternal roster. They are driven by a sincere belief that they are better off with their essence stored than they are left alive and eventually shattered.
During Magic Time the children look for playmates to join them...
Amoeba Proteus really is a monster, isn’t it? One mistake during a run-in can result in you having to crawl away leaving your bottom half behind.
Another strange thing about our little friend is that they have one of the worlds absurdly large genomes for no apparent reason. Theirs is a hundred the size of ours, and they’re just one cell, it’s suspected part of that is obtained from ingesting other hosts, so the child/graveyard bit is just bonus fun, right?
The Great Falling, meanwhile, is the Ediacarian Extinction and the Cambrian Explosion. They’re going to be their Atlantis and then some, very fun events!
That’s just the beginning, but I think it’s a good start. I’m definitely looking for help in understanding how to properly apply the worldview properly, especially somebody good at molecular biology but really anybody who loves writing stories.
Anybody is invited to help, but I’ll be constantly bringing this more to life over time regardless, it’s just too awesome!
About your host (he’s mostly harmless.)