This is a new thing I’ve decided to do. Every Wednesday I’m going to post bits of my world building and backstory for my various ‘verses. I adore world building and put a lot of effort into the worlds that I create. As such there’s always so much more than I can ever put into any given story. Frankly, I have more than I could put into every single story, so this is a way to share that for those who are interested in that sort of thing.
Today’s Worldbuilding Wednesday focuses on my first world: Muirin.
The specific thing I’m starting with is where this world came from initially, the impetus behind its creation.
Muirin sprang from three separate sources: RaceFail 2009, a comment a friend of mine made and complaints about the show Stargate Atlantis.
In case you didn’t know, in 2009 there was a huge series of meta and comments on racism failures in Science Fiction and Fantasy. I read a great many of the posts made on Live Journal and they taught me a lot. Specifically, they made me question why the media had so few people of non-white races. When I look around at TV, movies and books, there aren’t very many non-white faces to be found.
This isn’t accident or the ‘best’ actors being cast. There’s a system in place that’s passively and actively maintained that keeps whites in charge. I have non-white heritage. It doesn’t show. Anyone looking at me would assume that I’m white and never think twice. I can pass. My mother can’t, not fully. My grandfather faced a fair amount of prejudice in his time and he worked very, very hard to assimilate fully, to be what society expected him to be.
I don’t feel that I have the right to speak for anyone other than myself. My experiences in life don’t give me any sort of true insight into racism. All I know, from my personal experiences and from what I’ve learned over the years, is that representation matters. Having characters that reflect you is important. If you never have the opportunity to see people like you as the heroes of stories you never realize that you can do great things. It’s vital for children to have that representation.
So, when I decided that I wanted to create a new world to write original stories in, I deliberately made the map such that the majority of the land masses were in the equatorial ranges. People on that world, for the most part, get more sun than our world. The vast majority of the population is not white simply by adapting to their environment. It’s a deliberate choice on my part to ensure that the majority of the characters in the world would be non-white.
The second inspiration for Muirin was a comment that a friend of mine made. She was writing some very wonderful original stories at the time and made a throw-away comment about desperately wanting a matriarchy where there were men in petticoats. The matriarchies that were available at that time tended not to flip the clothing men and women wear even though they flipped the gender roles.
We had a lovely long conversation about how it would make sense for men to wear skirts and petticoats if women were in charge and men filled the same roles that women do in our world, especially in a world that was less technologically advanced than our world is.
Clothing says a lot about a person’s place in society. Frivolous complicated clothing that’s hard to move in says that this person does not work. Clothes that are easy to move in, durable and simple tend to say that the person wearing them is too busy working to be bothered with frills. There are solid sociological reasons why men’s clothes tend towards plainness with deep pockets and women’s clothes tend to be brighter colored, tighter and less utilitarian.
Another friend popped in and commented that hey, wouldn’t the sexual dimorphism between men and women be different if they evolved from the earliest days of human evolution with women being the more aggressive, more dominant gender and the men were the ones who did the child care.
That spawned a long discussion on why genetics and sexual selection have led to men and women having the relative strengths and sizes we do. And it triggered a thought for me: What if there was a world where the people were strongly predisposed – for some unknown reason – towards matriarchy AND the sexual dimorphism between males and females was negated?
If you left those people alone for oh, say 10,000 to 20,000 years? Wouldn’t that result in women being bigger and stronger and men being smaller and weaker?
After all, sexual selection (the process whereby individuals choose their mates) has produced significant results on Earth. The differences between races isn’t just a matter of the environments that we live in. There are also strong differences due to one culture valuing one sort of features, say slim angular eyes, versus another that values wide eyes. That applies to what men and women are ‘supposed’ to look like to.
On Earth we ascribe ‘strong’, ‘powerful’, and ‘dominant’ to ‘male’. Thus females looking for a male mate look for a male that is physically strong, powerful and dominant. A skinny little nerd doesn’t rate as strongly on those grounds as say, Jason Momoa or Idris Elba. If asked to choose between Woody Allen and Jason Momoa as to which of the two more closely matched ‘dominant, powerful male’, I think pretty much everyone would pick Jason Momoa.
In the same way, ‘woman’ is paired with ‘gentle’, ‘nurturing’ and ‘delicate’. A champion weight lifter like Holley Mangold isn’t going to be matched to those qualities as quickly as Audrey Hepburn, no matter what their actual personalities might be.
So, as I created Muirin I posited some as yet unknown force 1) influenced the inhabitants of Muirin strongly towards matriarchy and 2) reset their genetics so that men and women had virtually identical strength, endurance and stamina. Everything that happened after that over a span of approximately 15,000 to 20,000 caused men to be smaller and physically weaker while women became larger and more physically powerful.
The third influence on Muirin was Stargate Atlantis. Or, more accurately, it was a complaint that I had with Stargate Atlantis. I loved the show and enjoyed watching it greatly but it always bothered me that they spent so little time exploring the city of Atlantis.
I wanted to see what was there! They had a huge city full of who knew what and the show barely spent any time exploring it. Granted, it was a TV show and they had a budget. Building endless sets for the actors to explore wasn’t going to happen. That doesn’t change the fact that I really, really, really wanted the show to spend more time exploring the city.
It was built by a mysterious alien race with incredible technology that was beyond anything humanity could imagine. In my mind there could be wonders untold waiting around every corner, coupled with great dangers that would have been thrilling to watch. Not to mention that they knew so little about the Ancients who built the city that there could be all sorts of strange things that had to do with the differences between species.
So that desire for inscrutable aliens with unbelievable technology mixed into the brewing mixture that became Muirin. The Ladies were what came out.
You see, I wanted abandoned alien cities but I didn’t want them to be totally abandoned. The thought that the creators of the supposedly abandoned city might still be around watching humanity was much too interesting to me.
I thought about it while I created Muirin’s map. What if those aliens were still around? What if they found humans interesting enough to let them stay on their world? Why would they do that? And if they were there, why wouldn’t they just explain and show humanity their technology, their cities, all of that fascinating stuff that I so wanted to see on Stargate Atlantis?
Having the aliens be open and sharing with humans would negate what I was going for on the slightly more primitive world full of matriarchal cultures. Thus I realized that I wanted the aliens to still be there but unavailable to humanity for the most part. That meant that they had to be somehow removed from humanity’s reach. Humans as a whole are nothing if not persistent. If we knew the aliens were there, hidden away in their cities, we’d keep on knocking until we knocked the door down. So I had to take the aliens away in a way that allowed them to both be there and not be there. They had to be unreachable for my humans.
What’s unreachable? Well, I’m an aquaphobe with a special terror for things that live deep in the water so squid and octopus immediately came to mind. They’re the smartest and most alien of the fish that I’m aware of. They alter their environments, get bored in captivity and apparently communicate, too. Basing my aliens on cephalopods would make them completely alien and unreachable in one stroke.
It also opened up all sorts of interesting possibilities, including technology that relied on water and fluid dynamics, communication through their skin changing color and pattern, plus the potential for telepathic communication. There were all sorts of things that became possible when I made my aliens aquatic.
Angler fish creep me out in very serious ways but they also fascinate me. The female angler fish is huge compared to the male. She’s a fully functional fish that lives out her life deep underwater hunting for prey. The males aren’t like that. They exist to seek out a female and attach to her side, providing ready sperm in exchange for being a symbiote on her side.
If my hypothetical aliens were like that, in that the males were tiny and formed a symbiotic bond with them then their entire society would be fully female. And THAT would produce a profound matriarchal influence on humanity if they came to Muirin and spent a long time there.
So how would humanity get there? And why couldn’t they leave at will? After all if they had space ships to get to Muirin they should be able to leave again.
*grin* Well, that’s a tale for next Wednesday. I’ve already gone on longer than I intended here. Next week I’ll explain how I developed Muirin’s history and got it to the point where I could start telling stories.
I hope that this was interesting. If you have any questions please do comment. I’ll be very happy to talk about all of this further.