Meta-Almea

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For the story of how I started creating Almea, see the Secret History of Verduria.

This page is intended to answer some questions people have on why Almea is the particular kind of world it is.

Why is Almea so Earthlike?

Because it's fantasy, not science fiction. Genre conventions aren't laws, but they're good rules of thumb and shouldn't lightly be broken. Science fiction thrives on strange planets and interesting aliens, though you'll notice that the heroes are usually humanoid. Fantasy generally starts with a world that superficially looks like ours.

More largely, science fiction is essentially an expression of technophilia, and plays with physical laws. Fantasy is (at its best) a spiritual exploration, and plays with metaphysical laws. (What, you thought it was about wizards and dragons? It can be, just as science fiction can be about spaceships and rayguns. But that's just the surface level; the best works go well beyond these props.)

The opening pages of a fantasy novel usually start with an unpromising everyman in a very mundane situation, and gets weirder as you get into it. Almea is intended to have this quality as a whole. Verduria is intended to seem reassuringly familiar. The other cultures of Ereláe are a little stranger; Arcél is a little unearthly; and the undersea world is as alien as I can make it.

So Verduria is like medieval Europe?

Not really. For one thing, it's not medieval at all, it's Renaissance or later. As a first approximation, Verdurian society and science are similar to Western Europe of about 1750. There are areas where it's behind— Verduria has cannon but not effective muskets— and where it's ahead— it's already undergoing the Industrial Revolution, and it's worked out the theory of evolution and the comparative method.

As well, please note that Verduria isn't just an analogue of Britain or France. Its climate is Mediterranean; the people are darker than us, more or less the color of Arabs or Hispanics, but with an Asian quality to the eyes; there are aspects of Verdurian culture borrowed from China and Japan, or farther afield.

Why is it so obsessively detailed?

Because I like worlds like that. Some of my favorite authors give the impression that, if the narrative camera felt like it, it could turn 90 degrees and follow some other character, with just as much depth and interest.

I also like the idea of creating a world that can be explored at the reader's whim, rather than in the linear fashion of a book. It offers some literary effects that are otherwise hard to achieve in fantasy, notably allusion. A novel set in the real world can allude to the Franco-Prussian War, or the Aztec codices, or Carmen, and invoke the reader's knowledge and experience of these things. (Or begin it; human knowledge can start anywhere.)

Almea is intended to be detailed enough that I can do similar things. For instance, A Diary of the Prose Wars is set in Revaudo Xurno. But I can refer to things like Wede:i ruins, or Mešaism, or the iliu, or the Čeiyu adversarial method, and these aren't just throwaway allusions but real references. It's a kind of thrill for the reader who knows something about them already, or it may introduce a subject which can be explored later.

Are you aiming at a completely realistic world?

Most of the material I've put on the Web shares the same pseudo-academic tone, and this Almeopedia will probably reinforce that.

However, it ends up giving a distorted picture of what kind of world Almea is. As I said above, fantasy is ultimately a spiritual exploration. There are intended to be spiritual depths to Almea, weird and magical bits, unexplained oddities. Much of this will come up in the stories— short stories I'll put on the web, novels that you'll eventually be able to read. But I aim to find ways to bring it out in the encyclopedic material as well.

The realistic façade is in some ways just a starting point. I'd like to be able to tell modern urban fantasies like Neil Gaiman's, where an entire unsuspected mythic world is found hiding in our own.

For that matter, Verduria was originally created as a gaming world, and was full of jokes and satirical allusions. The proportion of jokiness has gone way down, but some of the stories I want to tell are largely comic.

How does Almean magic work?

I don't have an absolute answer to this, but I know how it doesn't work: like D&D, or in the prosaic pseudo-s.f. way of (say) Larry Niven.

I don't like fantasy magic systems that can be used like technology. Partly this is because I think it misses the point of fantasy— it's not supposed to be read like Popular Mechanics with altered physical laws. And partly it's because magic at the D&D level is just incompatible with a premodern world. You wouldn't have kings and peasants; you'd have essentially our modern world, with light spells in place of light bulbs and teleportation in place of cars. In short, you'd have J.K. Rowling.

So how do you get magic, without it being exploitable like science? The best answer I've come up with is that it's unreliable. My Counter-Effect story explores one way this might come about. But my working hypothesis on why magicians are troubled, solitary creatures is that what they're really doing is consorting with supernatural Powers— Powers with an agenda of their own, and no great interest in lighting up the streets. The magician must make sacrifices, and even become something inhuman himself, to attract the notice and favor of these Powers. But if he can retain their friendship, they will be willing to help him out. Magic is thus a perk of having relationships with demiurges.

It takes a particular type of personality, however, to balance one's own needs with pleasing the Powers. It's all too easy to bore or offend them. More subtly, many a magician has had no impact on Almea because they're drawn too far into the Powers' world, and simply become their human pet— or slave. The most successful magicians retain enough independece of mind and action that they still have secular aims and activities.

As to what magic can actually do, I've borrowed an idea from Ariosto: having magic is like employing an army of quick, invisible goblins, tireless but not terribly bright. Thus you can build a mansion in a night, or search a city for an artefact, or shoot an arrow at an enemy. But you can't walk on water, or bring back the dead, or create a +4 sword.

The Elenicoi are a disappointing anomaly

I agree, in part. I wouldn't put them in (in their current form) if I were starting from scratch. But the thing is, this is a lifelong project. In its early years, I had a strongly theistic worldview, and I wanted it reflected in my subcreation, just as Narnia reflected C.S. Lewis's beliefs. (Though I always regretted not coming up with something as elegant as Aslan.) When I moved away from many of those beliefs, I could have ripped out all that stuff. But that seemed rather dishonest and narrow.

Almea is supposed to be a whole planet, with a planet's worth of diversity. It's hard enough for a single brain to come up with enough plausible diversity... why throw out elements just because they don't fit my current worldview? I like having some anomalies around-- ours has plenty.