So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

24 April, 2009

I'm Already Mourning It

I just deleted a half-written post to the newsgroup I was ranting about recently. Not because it was part of the ongoing thrash about whether "twat" is sexist or "lame" is ablist, but because in that environment ...

... one of the things that I'm working on, at least in theory, is a space opera. The current site of the action is a planet named Paradi.

Someone posted a belief that Teh Future would be that mythical postracial society in which interbreeding had eliminated all racial differences, a theory that I find ... irritating and implausible. A reply was posted pointing out that if space colonisation came before certain other things, such would clearly not happen.

Which is part of what happened with Paradi. So I half-wrote a post about Paradi's background, and then deleted it.

Because the backstory of Paradi is this:

The wealthy nations/nationgroups drove the first wave of interstellar colonisation. Partly to minimise conflicts, and partly because it was just easier to divide things up that way, each one of them went in a somewhat different direction; sometimes new coalitions between them went out on a vector partway between the two parent nations' claims and so on. In that first wave, all of the best nearby planets for colonisation were taken: in other words, the water-belt planets around yellow main sequence stars. Terraforming technology required was minimal and mostly biological, getting human-edible plants adapted to the new places and so on. (It's a space opera. I reserve the right to make it easy.)

The second wave was driven by military and industry, and started to fill in the clusters. While first-wave worlds were largely pleasant ones, these were varying degrees of marginal, collecting resources and building listening outposts and setting up shipyards and so on. Some of these drove new terraforming technologies; some drove new robotics techniques; all of them worked on consolidating the new worlds empires. Border zones got established to minimize conflicts over resources, so nobody would settle near a different power, even if there was a nice planet; whole galaxies of potential for nice planets out there, after all.

Eventually, the technology got well enough developed and old enough (thus, cheap enough) that the poorer people back on Earth could consider launching colonial missions of their own, rather than perhaps hooking up with the richer folks if they were lucky. Some nations went alone; others formed coalitions. All were stuck with a basic problem: most of the known, nearby planets that might be plausibly settled or terraformed into settleability were either claimed or in the demilitarised buffer zones of the larger powers, which, of course, had the resources of multiple worlds rather than simply dominating Earth's resources. The good nearby planets had been chosen as start vectors; new good planets tended to be discovered by expansion of the existing bubbles.

Paradi orbits a young, bright, white star. The star is hotter than Sol, and puts out a fair bit more UV; while Paradi's orbit is further out from its sun than Earth's from Sol, keeping it in the water belt, it's still not the nicest place to consider settling. Especially for the paler-skinned nations, for while science is quite advanced in this story, it has not yet cured cancer.

Paradi was settled by a coalition of Caribbean nations; it is named in Kreyol, and the name choice was somewhat propagandistic. Its population is largely black-skinned, and has likely gotten more so since it was settled. It is well away from much of the ordinary populated space, as its settlers were not confident of being able to hold a territorial claim if one of the great powers took an interest, and thus chose security through obscurity.

(How much of this is in the book? That Paradi was settled from the Caribbean, the narrator can manage on his Spanish and English in most cases, that the days get glaringly bright and there's a siesta tradition in the worst of the heat, that the planet is reasonably distant from most other settled ones, and the hospital in the main city has a large oncology department. The amount of stuff the author knows that's off the edges of the page can be immense.)

Once upon a time I could have written a post about Paradi and made it to that newsgroup, and we'd have talked about the plausibility of the sociopolitical setup, the sort of culture that winds up on a planet with that background, the nature of terraforming or interstellar travel, someone would probably have pointed out a bug with this background that was bad enough to be worth considering a revision in even for a space opera, something. Other people would have contributed their own space colony stories or commented that they had gotten an idea from mine. Someone would have written a short-short to illustrate a relevant point. Someone else would have a fine time with a pun.

Now ... I'd give odds that one or more of the racial background, the geopolitics, or the class issues thus revealed would blow up into a giant shitstorm.

So I didn't post.

I miss my sane, useful, productive writers professional chat group.

But I guess I'm accepting that today isn't five years ago.


Dw3t-Hthr said...

Gods. I just cycled usenet in preparation for going to bed and saw this quoted text (the perpetrator of this charming bit of racist bullshit is in my killfile, but people keep talking to him):

"That the browner people of the world don't have much of an impact on the world's literature reflects who writes good literature.   Did the white male capitalist imperialist colonialists confiscate the pens and ink from darker colored people?"

This is the environment I didn't post about Paradi in. Can anyone fucking blame me?

Anna Feruglio Dal Dan said...

I have a backstory in my space opera in which one of the planets was originally settled by the US military, in particular by the grunts. A lot of whom were, I mean are, dark skinned.

This is a kind of problematic backstory for me because these people are pretty much the only ones in the whole bucket of populations that are actually pale-skinned, so I find myself with A Problem.

In the end I decided that they got rid of the melanin in what was probably a self-hating bit of mental colonialism. (They didn't start out as liberals and sure as heck aren't now.) It's going to be hard to sell it to the readers, though, so I am waiting for inspiration to strike.

I could just change their skin color of course, but I've spent so much time with a mental image of these guys that I find it very hard to do.

Anonymous said...

I saw that same thing you quoted about "browner people" and their lack of impact on the world's literature.

The amount of cluelessness displayed there is beyond belief -- except it's there in black and white.

And you know what the problem is? I want to leap in and argue with statements like that, but it doesn't do my depression any good, neither does if progress my writing in any way and, sadly, it just contributes to the noise in the newsgroup and bounces straight off the clueless jerk who posts such rubbish.

Deborah Fitchett said...

That "brown" comment made my head explode. The only sane response is, "...Yes." Maybe not pens and ink per se, but lands and language.

Oh, blah, I'm logged in as the wrong name and can't be bothered changing. But with rasfc's death and Geocities' impending demise I think I'm going to be slowly merging my personas anyway.


SunflowerP said...

"Someone posted a belief that Teh Future would be that mythical postracial society in which interbreeding had eliminated all racial differences, a theory that I find ... irritating and implausible."I find this theory irrelevant - it has nothing whatsoever to do with the speculation on/exploration of what-ifs and consequent worldbuilding that are at the core of SF writing (except insofar as it may be a feature of that person's worldbuilding).

If it's become common for things like that to be brought up as if they're relevant to others' worldbuilding (which is the impression I got initially, but on rereading I don't see what gave me the impression, so I could be barking up the wrong tree), that's the rot at the core that provides fertile ground for the *isms/*phobias to thrive. It limits imagination by discouraging people from speculating outside of the conventionalized mythos of What The Future Should Be, which is far too likely to include "free of uncomfortable ideas" - but SF should be a vehicle for examining ideas that the writer and hir audience find uncomfortable and challenging.

(I'm feeling simultaneously like a starry-eyed naif clinging to ideals about what SF "should" be, and a grumpy old-schooler waving her cane and telling the punks to get off her lawn.)

Yes, mourning time - "It's dead, Jim."