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Writing: Input Wanted Past ages in SF

  1. Interesting

    3 vote(s)
  2. Should be omitted

    3 vote(s)
  3. Unbelievable, but no more than the rest of pop SF

    3 vote(s)
  1. Sep 25, 2015 #1
    There are several examples of it. Western in Star Wars, Firefly, Cowboy Bebop.
    Medieval things in W40k.

    I wonder, whether it can be something cool, new thing, to shape another planet like ancient Egypt? Or is it just forced, lame?

    Cons : It makes that planet less imaginable in the future (although things like Mars vs Mercury war etc already require an amount of suspension of disbelief)
    While Stargate hasnt particularly grasped me, but i know, they already had such ideas.

    Pros : Someone wants to build a stabile system of total surveillance, personal cult etc. Nazism, communism are outdated (although many people in this world also disillusioned from republic). If someone cant create some revolutionary new ideology, culture, he can bring back something old, that was great for millenias.
    Also at this point, some kind of anachronism isnt uncommon in my setting in other places neither (arkhons, togas, triangular hats for example)
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 25, 2015 #2


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    It's overused --- Niven, The Mote in God's Eye, is one that included the church to excess. Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz, did well with it, but in the second case, the church was the story.
  4. Sep 25, 2015 #3
    I think it shows a lack of imagination. Who wants SF without imagination? Not i.
  5. Sep 25, 2015 #4
    Who has the imagination to develop an entirely new kind of culture?
    In Endymion the Biosphere was awesome, but we couldnt learn that much about their culture. An there were the spectrum people with the three people marriages, wasnt a bad idea, but still not an entire culture.
    (Such ideas could rather fit another planet that is a libertarian place.)
  6. Sep 25, 2015 #5
    I would hope that professional science fiction writers would. That's their job, as far as I'm concerned.

    Most readers though would find it too disorienting, I would imagine. They will stick with thinly disguised versions of the Roman empire.
  7. Sep 25, 2015 #6
    Unless it is done in a justified within setting way (like Stargate) that would look terribly uncreative.

    However, there plenty of ideas that can be realistically retried with new flavour. For example this "Nazism, communist" thing. Ask Baath party or even better ruling dynasty in North Korea whether there is such big choice concerning how to organize a stable totalitarian state, and not just a matter of adding local flavour.

    I also suspect that samurais were just a plagiarism of knights that we had in Europe ;) Or mercantilist policies of imperial China, clear rip of ideology from Europe ;) )

    So quite a few motives are 100% justifiable, and it would be a readers fault that only associates that with one historical era / event / regime.
  8. Sep 25, 2015 #7
    Well it doesn't have to come from a lack of imagination. The nice thing about those stories is that they let us explore past civilizations without the restrictions of past technology. They let us explore the way other cultures that don't exist anymore would view the future. There was some of that in Stargate (SG1). Some of the technologically advanced humans seemed to descend from Mesoamericans, for example, and they had customs 21st century Americans had trouble accepting.

    Look at Cretan sexuality as another example. Relationships between males involved a highly ritualized form of kidnapping. Our culture would view it as abuse, but to them it was an expression of love and respect and a sign of aristocratic status.

    Other human cultures have had very different beliefs and norms than ours. They've had concepts for things we have no concepts for, words for things for which we have no words. Taking a past age into the present or future can be interesting. What would an AI or an alien find appealing in 10th century Viking culture? What ideas would Jung have about the internet? Etc.
  9. Sep 26, 2015 #8
    I can think about two options.
    A: if it is a simple regime then dont overuse the analogy.
    B: in my story aliens visited Earth. Maybe they could run an experiment that they took some people to an underground mercury place. When the mining corp finds that place with the artifacts... They could become really obsessed.
    In that case i could switch to a lesser known analogy, ancient mayans for example.
  10. Sep 26, 2015 #9
    Thanks. I thought about Tien-san in Rise of Endymion, a tibetian analogy. I omit Egypt, the arguments are good, that with Stargate, it would be overused. On the other hand, with aliens, i can create an extraordinary justification to recreate something ancient on another planet. Settlers find the mayan ruins, others refuse to believe them, you must have falsified evidence, no aliens, no space travel ancients...
  11. Sep 27, 2015 #10
    It could be a good thing, a lot of sci-fi cultures have that shallow/superficial feel to them, and being inspired by an existing/historical culture might help in developing something that feels more solid. Provided of course that an effort is made to understand how the people of that culture viewed the world and lived their daily lives. Reading up on history, biographies, mythologies, traditions and literature of the culture in question is a necessity.

    On the other hand, "lifting" historical cultures out of their context and simply adding "in space!" can make the setting feel artificial. I mean, why would a culture that evolved around the Nile, in the Bolivian Altiplano or coastal southern Sweden remain unchanged if its people found their way to Mars, cities in the ice of Europa or on a generation ship bound for Kepler-something? If the conditions that formed the cultures are replaced by others, the culture itself will also change, since it evolved to fit its environment.

    There is in real life already a very good example of this, called the united states of America. It was primarily founded by Europeans and European descended people. It is both made up of older cultures but it also came to evolved ideas and traditions of its own. My people (Swedes) migrated there en masse during the 1880-1910 time frame, but even if you go to those parts of Pennsylvania where the plurality of the population is Swedish-descended, you are not going to find that much of rural late1800s/early 1900s Sweden there.

    Similarly, a "USA equivalent" where the native Americans didn't die off from old world diseases, or where the area was colonized by the Japanese after being discovered in the early 1500s would of course be different from what is seen today. But my point is, it would also not be as easy as imagining Japan in the shape of north America or native Americans as we know them, it would be cultures descended from the Japanese/native Americans.

    Take a look at www.alternatehistory.com , it is a discussion board primarily interested in alternate history (such as the examples I give above), but it also has quite a lot of sci fi and I think it illustrates quite nicely how knowledge of history, anthropology et cetera builds into good scifi world building.
  12. Sep 27, 2015 #11
    Thanks, i will look at it.
    Well i also read, that a traditional mayan community is giving up old rituals after introduction of TV. In space, they sure wont worship a god of the mountain for example, although the gods can still appear in naming conventions, or an abstract upper god like Hunab-ku can be still praised by significant percent of people.
    Or (as far as i know) shinto is an old spiritist religion, that made to modern age, i should look at it too.
    Art, festivals are the things, where old traditions can appear most.
    Society... i can rather imagine a king of ceremonial role, than entirely giving up democracy (that should be the totalitarian technocracy, although when the invasion fleet coming for their planet, ms little dictator will promise more freedom, and constitution) I can imagine ancient style ritualized execution, as punishment for really bad crimes, including corruption in politics :P
  13. Sep 27, 2015 #12
    There is one very serious problem for story purposes - there is some indirect influence of past believes. For example - monotheistic religions (not only Christianity, Islam too) tended to improve rights of slaves or children (for ancient Greeks and Romans infanticide by head of family was OK) by claiming that those are human beings who have soul. Thus if under religious laws are humans, then should have at least some legal protection. Or reformation idea that all people should read Bible... which made protestants gov to speed up history by starting early form of mass education to achieve basic literacy among peasants.

    In the same time the religion (or any source of inspiration) may be already in decline phase.

    Want a malicious idea? Instead of a "monarchy" (democracy with figurehead king), one may try "republic" (a technocracy with fair and democratic election of figurehead president). In both cases the same issue - de facto political system evolved, while because of lack of any revolution and respect for tradition, traces of old regime remained.
  14. Sep 27, 2015 #13
    If you go to the upper midwest region, you might. The first Swede I met in person, I assumed was from Minnesota due to the accent. The vowels are the same.

    And the lutefisk.

    ...and the Vikings. But the Minnesotan ones just play football.
  15. Sep 27, 2015 #14
    In OP i wrote about a regime, but now i think, that should be another place (and make it no more traditionalist than present day China's Party).

    The ancient like society i think about should be something different. Not so technocratic. Maybe a bit like Iran? (they can elect their president, who maybe not even the favorite of the ayatollah, but the later has the supreme power)
    Again, i thought about the following history : settlers who didnt really liked what is on Earth, reach another planet, wow underground mayan ruins, artifacts, this is so awesome, they travelled space long ago, we should rebuild things based on that culture. Then carefully monitor newcomers to accept new culture. On the other hand, they should give them something to make them feel good, and willing to embrace it. Well, lots of lands waiting for paraterraforming. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terraforming)
    A community that can help them overcome depts (indepted modern day slavery isnt uncommon on Earth) Something to lift their spirits (cheap stuff on festivals, mayans ate mushrooms with hallucinogenics) Grant them enough rights as long as they pay some respect to traditions, culture.
  16. Sep 27, 2015 #15
    Well, if the classical Maya civilization had survived to the present, some things about them would already sound like sci-fi.

    Example: Numerical names. Classical Maya names were simply their dates of birth. If you were born on the calendar date "13 Deer", your name was 13-Deer (13-Nacuaa).

    Impressive, right? It's so rational, so scientific. So orderly. Like if all of us today were named 23-November or 02-January. Or just 23-11 or 02-01.

    Later on, you'd get an addition to your Sacred Calendar name to distinguish you from other kids born on the same date. So your full adult name would be 13-Deer 'Quetzal Macaw' or 6-Sky 'Mirror Jaguar' or some such.

    I don't know of any culture outside Mesoamerica that used mathematically derived names. (A Roman couple calling their eighth son Octavius doesn't count.) And, of course, that's just part of their general fascination with stuff like math and time.
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2015
  17. Sep 27, 2015 #16
    Underground Mayan ruins, artefacts and allies? Do you want something simpler? Eccentric trillionaire with a group of true believers and lukewarm masses. Think about creation of state of Israel. In RL it was possible reanimate language, same happened with Czech language. There are in my country some guys who try to recreate pre-Christian religions (not much was left, so it is mostly a new invention). Something in this line could be possible. Just pour a bit more money and place it in space.

    Think how would you behave if they paid you really well, but expected for citizenship from you to learn language, adopt proper name and take part in state celebrations. ;)
  18. Sep 27, 2015 #17
    I find it hard to believe traditions like that will ever come back, though. This is a civilization that disintegrated long ago. The classical period ended 500 years before Europeans arrived. I'm not sure if even the followers of traditional Maya religion use calendar names today.
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2015
  19. Sep 27, 2015 #18
    Hmm using 20 based numerical system and some other things isnt a bad start to make them look like an alien race. (I dont think it cause them way more hardship than certain british customs, and they sure need a calendar reform on an exoplanet)

    And a significant percent of people of the next generation could really believe in traditions and spiritualism.
    I wonder about the TV vs tradition thing i've mentioned before. Maybe they could ban commercials? People would watch less TV i they had to pay for it. Also less money spent on buying things that arent really needed.
    Not terribly good for corporations, but i think, they could withstand it.
    Last edited: Sep 27, 2015
  20. Sep 27, 2015 #19
    When I thought about ways of creating new culture and identity in hurry (with minor help of tactics used by communist):
    -mass education with proper dose of propaganda;
    -fuelling state money in to approved culture (don't have to be too blatant, funding annual awards for best books in local language, funding films, computers games etc.)
    -Gov TV... in soft version would be hard to blame them if on same days main news are some celebrations... or that they use official language...
    -would you take part in a celebrations of some weird tradition if there were bread and circuses of proper quality provided?
    -you can hit improper culture with taxes, red tape, child protection regulations, morality, quirks of intellectual property law, etc.

    Ban commercials? Just force foreign companies to follow your local onerous regulations concerning nudity, honest practices, local content percentage... When they fail - ban them murmuring something about consumer protection. If they adapt - make the rules even more complicated.

    In real life I've seen how a few years ago parliament in my country in religious/election fervour reintroduced epiphany as a holiday. Within a few years a "tradition" of marches of the three kings appeared.
  21. Sep 28, 2015 #20
    What can be the pros and cons of the system?
    If we take Iran as a base, problems are :
    - corruption
    - young people of Teheran definitally want less orthodoxy and censorship
    On the other hand, it was written in Honeymoon in Teheran, that while she didnt liked what was going there especially under the ex president, it was good, how the community helped her, when he raised a kid.

    Mayan religion didnt have such strict moral codes like islaam, but had painful stuff, like bloodletting rituals... hospitals wont run out of blood on that place. :P

    Corruption, if a kind of priesthood monitors kacikas (elected officials) who monitors priests? Maybe a not so high-level AI monitors budget, that is a bit similar to a demi-god?
    Although they shouldnt have too much robotics (I want a major difference between them, and technocratic regime/rigged election republic) It is written in another topic, that semiconductors are cheap thanks to mass production. I could accept a law that seriously taxes smartphones, facebook (so reduces their usage, and makes semiconductors less cheap)... (It can be really irritating, when someone close to me spends hours with them)
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