by Keith Morrison
©2006 Keith Morrison
- In the beginning, Deity created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And Deity moved upon the face of the accreted molten magma.
And Deity said, Let there be geology: and there was geology.
And Deity saw the geology, and it was good. And chemistry and physics divided the siderophiles from the chalcophiles.
- The Book of Norso-mri, Chapter 0
I thought Id try something different for the next few columns: Im going to go through the process of creating a world. Why? Two reasons. First, its a synthesis of many of the columns Ive written and my general whining when authors screw upin my view, anywaythings they should not. Second, it allows me to get on to paper
or an electronic version thereof
a world that has been wandering around my imagination for nearly a decade, constantly mutating and changing. I really want to write in it, and this gives me the excuse to lock at least some of it down.
This will be a quasi-fantasy world called (in one of the local languages) Gayajan. Magic and gods and monsters it has, but these things arent just randomly inserted with no thought to what makes a functional world; they have consistent natures, complete with limits and relationships tied into their world and their environment. Youll see what I mean as we go on. Despite the fact there is magic, and that magic is a critical part of the environment and the ecosystem, other processes that are familiar to us work as well. Chemistry, biology, physics and economics all still work, and therefore must be taken into account. The world has history, language, culture and politics. At some parts Im going to be a little skimpy on detail (deliberately so) and at other parts, Ill simplify things. After all, I need to keep some secrets for the actual story.
Ready to rock and roll?
The first thing is to explain why this world is different from ours, and the principle difference is magic. In this world magic is a natural force, a force that (with sufficient thinking and experiment) can be studied, explained and manipulated. Its effects can be reproduced in predictable ways. However, that doesnt mean everyone can use it easily. For a real-world analogy, consider something like electricity. People use it all the timebut the vast majority have no idea how or why it works. Most people just know that the TV turns on when they flip a switch, and theyre blithely unaware of the vast infrastructure of power lines and generators and so on thats lurking, by implication, behind the switch. If the electricians and engineers and scientists and technicians decided to turn off the power one day, it would be a while before people would be able to figure out the system anew for it to be reliably running again.
The corollary of that is, of course, that the use of magic isnt limited to a particular class of people. If someone has set up the infrastructure for you, you can use it. And if youre willing to put in the time and effort and study and have the mental wherewithal, you can learn how it works yourself.
Now as to where the magic fits in, the exact mechanism behind it well, Im making it up. Heres one of the ingots of handwavium Ill need to create this fantasy world.
So: Magic is a form of energy. Whoever created this world (and it did initially have Intelligence fooling with its creation) has changed the rules. When a radioactive isotope undergoes decay, it doesnt release an alpha particle, a beta particle, a gamma ray, an x-ray, neutrinos or quarks. Instead, it releases raw magical energy. In short: Etheric Energy = MC2
(Does this work in the systems sun? Maybe )
In its natural state, magical energy causes some simple effects. If the energy isnt channeled into some particular function, it just sits there generating heat through the interaction of the basic unit of magical energythe etheronwith other matter. High energy etherons are analogous to x-rays or gamma rays; low energy, to alpha particles. For most purposes, magical energy would be indistinguishable from the normal energy most people associate with the term radiation.
So whats the main difference? Etheric energy is, for reasons the most brilliant Gayajanian ethericists have never managed to develop a full theory for, something that can be influenced by life. Carbon-based, silicone-based (not a typo: theoretically, silicon doesnt work as well as a backbone for a DNA analogue as silicon and oxygen, in the form of silicone molecules, would), it doesnt matter. For some reason life can interact with etheric energy, sensing and potentially manipulating it.
Now, this isnt far off from real life. Modern organisms use electromagnetic energy the same way, from sensing and generating electrical fields to using the planetary magnetic field to navigate. However, the more complex the creature, the greater the sophistication in the use of that EM energy. Your average bacterium isnt going to be able to use electricity in as sophisticated ways as do sharks or electric eels. Factor in intelligence and the potential ability to make use of the energy, and all bets are off.
So what can etheric energy do? It can alter other, normal, forms of energy; for instance, it can make a light beam bend in a way it shouldnt unless there was a massive gravitational field present. It can easily break the bonds that keep molecules together. It can create massive electron fluxes so you can thunderbolt the crap out of your enemies. You can move individual atoms or molecules or great masses of molecules by creating fields of opposing and directed magnetic force. And if you have enough of it, it can warp space itself (albeit at less than light speed) allowing teleportation.
(Teleportation has rules as well; well get to it later.)
Create matter? This is technically possiblebut in order to do it, you need to force etherons back into normal particles, and Ee = MC2 still applies. It would take a tremendous amount of etheric energy to form the most minimal amount of matter, and ethericists dont believe its worth the effort even if they could. This also limits its ability to transmute atoms into other kinds of atoms.
Again, a real-world analogy: Any child with two wires, a glass of water, and a battery can change water into its constituent parts of hydrogen and oxygen, but that same kid isnt going to be turning lead into gold. Sure, its possible to change one kind of atom into another using gigabuck-scale machinery to transmute a single-digit number of atoms at a time. So whatever else element-transmutation may be, its not exactly a viable source of monetary metal.
If, on the other hand, youre trying to create a new element with special properties
So, while highly skilled ethericists could do things like change a man into a horse, theyd have to make up the difference in mass somehow. Most importantly, that mass has to be composed of the atoms they need. You cant take a 100-kg man plus 400 kilos of ordinary rock, and produce a 500-kg horse. Replace that rock with 400 kilos of meat, on the other hand, and the change is fairly easy; most of the necessary proteins and other needed chemical constituents are already there in the correct form, and just have to be massaged a bit.
Its a pretty simple rule: When changing something into something else, the closer in form the two are to begin with, the easier it is.
This is going to have economic implications when we get to that subject in another column. Lets put it this way: While a Gayajan nation could produce food for its citizens by taking random organic matter and converting it into something edible, in many cases it would make more sense to use less energy simply to grow plants and ranch animals, and let specialized magical food-processing experts tweak it into different foods for variety.
But enough with the magic for now. Well get back to it in later. Now that weve introduced the major difference between our world and Gayajan, lets start taking a look at the world itself.
Right now the planets star is situated fairly high above the galactic plane, away from the dust clouds that, here on Earth, obscure our view of the rest of the galaxy. As a result, in one direction Gayajans night sky is an awe-inspiring vista of a spiral galaxy. Being away from most of the other stars, however, means that in the other direction the sky is moderately dark, with fewer stars than are visible to the naked eye on Earth.
The star is on an average 250-million-year orbit around the galaxy. Because its orbit is so highly inclined, every 125 million years it passes through the much more crowded area of the galactic plane where things can get more exciting, with possibilities up to and including mass extinctions. Currently the star is 20 million years past its last transit through the galactic plane.
Gayajans star is a G1V, a main sequence yellow dwarf slightly bigger and more luminous that our own G2V. As a consequence of its size and luminosity, its time on the main sequence will be shorter than our own (8.8 billion years versus around 10 billion). This also pushes the habitable zone out further from the star with a subsequent increase in the length of the year.
The system has 12 planets. The inner three are airless rocks. Number 4 is Gayajan. Number 5 is a small gas giant; 6 is a dwarf rock; 7 a dwarf gas giant only twice the mass of the Earth, far enough out (hence, cold enough) that it could retain most of its gasses during formation. Planet 8 is a proper jovian, slightly smaller than Jupiter, while number 9 is a monster, over twice the mass of Jupiter. Then 10, another small rock; 11 is another small gas ball; and finally another rock at 12.
Of course the system also has a large complement of moons and asteroids, its equivalents of the Kuiper Belt and Oort cloud and their complement of large iceballs and comets and space-lions and astro-tigers and bears, oh my
But I digress.
The planet were interested in is Gayajan. Its a tad larger than Earth (6420.3 km equatorial radius versus Earths 6378.1) but with the same average density. This means its mass is a little more than Earths, and its surface gravity, too, is slightly higher1.01 gees. This increases average atmospheric pressure to 1024 millibars, or about 1.01 times ours. As with the gravity, this really wont be noticeable except for people like athletes whod notice they were a little slower and heavier, and weather fanatics whod see that winds are a tad more powerful than their speed might suggest, as compared to Earth. For most of us, not significant.
The air is 79.9% nitrogen, 18.7% oxygen, 1.2% argon and 0.2% other stuff. While the oxygen content is lower than Earths 20.9%, the thicker atmosphere actually provides more oxygen per unit volume. The partial pressure of O2 on Earth (the portion of the total air pressure composed of oxygen) is 180 millibars, while Gayajans is 192. Athletes might not be able to go as far or as fast, but it wont be for lack of air.
The average temperature is 2 degrees warmer than Earth. This doesnt sound like much, but its enough to have a very noticeable effect on Gayajans climate. I picture it as something like the late Cretaceous and Eocene, with forests viable to the poles and a more uniform temperature gradient. Combined with a slightly lower axial tilt (20 degrees to our 23), this means climactic zones tend to be wider.
Of course this world isnt going to be entirely pleasant. Warmer water + wider temperature gradients = more and bigger hurricanes and other cyclonic storms. Some places will be right nasty when the wind blows (more punch in the wind, remember?).
The planet orbits at 1.037 AU, giving a year 379.89 Earth-days long. It rotates a bit faster than Earth the days are only 22.8 hours longresulting in 399.8842 local days per local year. Yes, well have a calendar in a later column. Gayajan has two moons (one a bit smaller than ours with a 22-local-day orbit, the other a lot smaller and further out with a 41-day orbit) to make things more interesting.
For the geography of the planet I cheated. Instead of creating the planet de novo, and working to get the geography right, I used a reconstruction of the Earths continental layout from the middle-late Ordovician. Its an interesting mix of a large supercontinent (Gondwana), smaller continents (North America, Siberia, Baltica), rifting continental fragments forming large islands (Avalonia, part of future Newfoundland, New England and England) and large, lengthy island arcs reaching out into the ancient Panthalassa Ocean which dominates the northern hemisphere. High ocean levels means there are large stretches of shallow sea covering continental crust, good for life and creating natural areas for travel. Here is one reconstruction of the late Ordovician Earth. In the next column Ill have links to my own maps of Gayajan. Once I do them. Ahem!
How can geography be right or wrong? Well, if geological/tectonic forces are behaving normally, things will tend to appear in predictable locations. Mountains form in logical places, rivers have sources and flow to something, and so on and so forth.
At this point, people with some geology or astronomical knowledge will complain that defining normal might be a tad difficult, given that we so far have exactly 1 (one) examplenamely, Earthto base the models on. This is true; however theres some confidence that geology in similar conditions should look the same. If you, like me, have the opportunity to see large stretches of frozen water, you can see the same kinds of processes in water and ice as take place with rock and magma.
Large sheets of ice can split, forming rifts which expose water that freezes, enlarging the sheets (rift valleys, spreading centers). Ice sheets can slide past each other (slip faults), they can go under other sheets (subduction), they can form pressure ridges when they collide (mountain building). Sometimes, in the right situation, water beneath the ice can be forced up to the surface of the ice. Normally this takes place at rifts or pressure ridges, but sometimes an ice volcanoand thats what they are literally called!takes place in the middle of an ice sheet when currents and upwellings create a weak spot that the water punches through. Sometimes the ice sheet moves, giving the water a fresh piece to weaken and leaving the equivalent of a volcanic chain like the Hawaiian islands.
Given that ice can replicate rock, I have no trouble assuming that Earth-like geological processes will be found on other Earth-like worlds.
And there will be Earth-like climateincluding Earth-like variations in climate. None of this it was raining on Mongo garbage. A planet is a big place; Gayajan will have its deserts and forests, its jungles and open plains, its rainy coasts and its parched lands. The geography and climate will determine that, not me just because I want my characters to do a quick world tour covering the lands of the Anglo-Saxon Cossacks to the Fanatical Caliphates in a few days horse ride.
(If you dont know what that quick world tour business refers to, see Diana Wynne-Jones excellent book The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. It belongs on the must read list of anyone whos interested in reading, or especially writing, fantasy; its a very funny and very accurate skewering of most/all the standard tropes and clichés.)
So theres the start of our world. In part 2, well look at Gayajans life: The plants, the animals, and how magic and evolution can work together. Bewarebecause here there be dragon-like things