Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Some Fundamental Contradictions

Hi everyone.

Travis Perry here submitting to the entire group some points I'd already sent directly to Grace, which she thought would be beneficial for everyone to see.  In addition to the recent comment I made about political institutions in AE being rather undefined as of now, I believe there are a number of areas in which differing Avenir Eclectia stories do not knit together well to form a unified universe:

1)  How rich or poor is this society as a whole in terms of technological abilities and material goods?  Some stories portray only a tiny elite having anything like the comforts most twentieth-century North Americans (or New Zealanders) enjoyed.  Others make material prosperity much more abundant, so much so that interplanetary trade is common (which is fairly expensive), as are many other institutions and technologically-based comforts we would recognize on Earth.

2) How much does this society as a whole reflect the institutions of Earth?  How much does it remember Earth?  Again, a number of authors, including myself, had made stories from the point of view that Earth is sort of a dim memory for almost all people in the Avenir universe.  Other stories portray certain individuals having specific and detailed memories of Earth as in quoting Earth literature, or being named from Earth literature, or in having named institutions with the same names they had on Earth (Walt referenced a "First Baptist Church" in one of his stories, for example). 

3) What is the relationship between magic and science, the natural and supernatural, in this story universe?  Do wizards really perform magic or are they called "wizards" in a linguistic misremembering of what scientists do?  Do they study angels for the science they can derive from them (as I portrayed them), or are they trying to actually perform magic?  More fundamentally, are angels intelligent aliens with psychic abilities, or are they actually supernatural beings, true "angels"?

4) How lawless or well-ordered is the Avenir society?  Some stories tend to portray all regions as basically lawless, with only a thin line of peacekeepers and enforcers basically ineffective to shape society.  Others portray the society as essentially ordered, peacekeepers running things much as law enforcement operates in First World nations today, with a relatively minor criminal sub-culture still prevalent.  Ironically, my own stories can probably be interpreted as coming down on both sides of this continuum. 

I wrote the above points in the order they occurred to me, but they actually fall into two different categories.  1, 2, and 4 are all issues where apparent contradictions could be fairly easily resolved by putting some distance and perhaps even time between differently portrayed characters.  The problem with all of these is that as authors are trying to build familiarity with certain places, the same places keep occurring over and over again.  Avenir, Zirconia, and a common unnamed hunting camp come up over and over again with different writers portraying the same places in contradictory ways.  You can sort of iron out contradictions by saying even a single place like Zirconia is big enough to have societal divisions within it, but that doesn't completely account for the differences in my estimation.
Point three is much more serious.  Angels are either supernatural or they aren't.  We can play with the idea that people mistake them for being one when they really are the other, but they actually have to be one or the other.  Or perhaps they are somehow neither natural nor supernatural--but whatever it is they are, they are that and nothing else as I see things.  As of now stories have gone: 1) Basically human, but telepathic and not understood by humans (Kat's stories if I remember right) 2) Definitely supernatural, as in responsible for healing and a message to a human 3) A benevolent alien presence, a sort of underwater ET (which is where my angel stories fall).  You could try to say the angels belong to different types in order to explain this, but the stories themselves don't divide the angels into types--except for one of mine, which split surface angels from deep sea angels.  But that was meant to indicate differences in appearance and lifestyle rather than fundamental nature.  Likewise the question of "what is the fundamental nature of wizards" is one in which the answers supplied by differing stories are actually in contradiction to one another, IMHO.  My Wizard Hobson uses the scientific study of angels to develop mental (psionic) abilities--Walt portrays a professor with a levitation problem, that is, performing literal magic.

In general I prefer to have a solution to any problem I happen to raise.  I certainly could create rules to resolve my points; however, that's inappropriate under the circumstances.  Avenir Eclectia belongs mainly to Grace but in a lesser sense to all of us.  I recommend we work together to resolve our issues.

Though perhaps a better way to deal with contradictions would be to deliberately choose to not to look too closely at inconsistencies and simply enjoy what's been written for whatever it happens to be...


  1. Well, I know for my part on the angel thing, I don't actually consider them to be *real* angels. I DO consider them as just alien life--with extraordinary psychic abilities that can't be neatly defined. I have (at least I'm trying to) pseudo-scientific explanations for all of their "miracles" in my stories, I just haven't got that far yet. Ultimately, I view the angels as something that people *can't* fully understand. This isn't like Star Trek where all the aliens are still humanoid with humanoid feelings and abilities and politics and religion. I imagine that what these things are can't necessarily be quantified by human thought, they exist on a totally different plane. They are *alien*.

  2. Yeah I pondered over my use of "supernatural" in my post after the fact, realizing it's a little slippery. I mean, Spock can read minds but that is not considered spiritual or supernatural, E.T. can make bikes fly but that's not considered magical.

    Science fiction is perhaps more than a little self-contradictory in commonly accepting certain psychic powers as "scientific" when they are basically the same as what would be called magic or supernatural power elsewhere. What distinction between types that can be made comes largely in how the powers are used. Humans with psi powers would use them to benefit humans in ways we all understand. Supernatural powers would be used for the benefit of human beings, but in accordance with a higher plan beyond human understanding. Aliens would tend to benefit themselves with their powers but would act in ways that we do not understand, which includes plenty of room for unexpected benevolence to humans on their part.

    I saw the healing and direct communication from your story as an indicator that you were portraying angels as more supernatural than alien. My apologies for the mistake.

    As for the AE angels being something we can't fully understand, I'm aiming for that to a degree. I see the angels as fundamentally different from humans and am toying with the notion that they are sinless in the same sense that C.S. Lewis portrayed Martians in his Space Trilogy. Do you have any thoughts on whether AE angels are sinless or not?

  3. "Sinless". Perhaps another slippery topic.

    Let's put it this way, I don't consider all "angels" in AE to be benevolent and suspect we'll be seeing those other kinds crop up later. The "demons" of AE, as it were.

    But does that mean that they are sinful if they're malevolent to humans? Or just, you know, operating on a different natural order? A wild animal isn't evil when it's pouncing on a human who has strayed into its environment.

    It's an interesting topic, to be sure, and perhaps goes deeper into the fundamental beliefs behind the AE project. *Is* this a mythology built upon a Biblical-ish worldview? Does God exist in AE? Does the supernatural exist at all? If there's a kernel of Christian foundation buried deep beneath the AE structure, then the questions of sin--and subsequentially the need for a Savior--would need to be taken into account. Not necessarily ever written about (unless an author chose to), but at least serve as the underpinnings for those discussions. I'm not saying it should be one way or the other--at the moment I'm just enjoying writing about underwater monsters and giant bugs :P But, to go deeper into the fundamental "truths" of AE, I think it'd have to be decided if we were operating under Biblical understanding. Having said that, I'm *assuming* we're operating under a Biblical center, but I don't know if that's ever been expressly stated to me.

    As for where the angels come from, I know fellow AE contributor Jeff Carter has some ideas and, for the record, I've been mostly sticking to that concept (but leaving enough wiggle room for other authors' interpretation). Perhaps you should do some behind-the-scenes e-mailing!

  4. Hi Greg. As I mentioned, my post started as a behind-the-scenes email that Grace thought should be a public discussion. I sincerely hope she is correct in estimating the topics I raised will be of benefit to everyone. Perhaps Jeff should likewise share? I don't really know...

    Some of the "fundamental truth" questions can wind up becoming an exercise in navel-gazing, though I think you raise questions not in that category. Especially concerning the existence of "demons"--what are they? Are they wild animals in effect or on the other hand willfully sinful? Are they enemies of angels, or just humans?

    These questions can neither be taken as unimportant to a story featuring demons (because their behavior will be significantly different under differing scenarios), nor can they be (if we're to be consistent) something you write one way and I write another, nor is this something best to resolve with private emails, since you and I may come to agreement about something, only to find someone else has written stories contradictory to what we had in mind.

    I think it's appropriate to caution you and anyone else interested in writing stories featuring demons. In my opinion, there is a real risk of making the sea dwelling aliens in AE look like allegories of Christian ideas on spiritual warfare if demon stories are not handled carefully. In my thinking, this would be very damaging to other stories that attempt to portray angels (and demons) as mysteriously alien in the way you've revealed you think of them.

    I'm not trying to be pedantic here. I'm sure you're aware of the potential problem as much as I am. Nonetheless, I think a CAUTION is still in order for everyone else...

    Any thoughts on the other points I raised?

    Thank you!

  5. I hear you on the dangers of writing things as "angels" and "demons" in an allegorical sense. I don't believe them to be allegorical and have already talked to Grace in my initial pitch of my intentions, so I take it I've been given the "all clear".

    I also agree that these topics ARE important to the story--and to AE as a whole, for continuity's sake--and need to be settled by and for the authors. I do not, however, believe these are things to be settled in an open forum like this. Two reasons:

    1--Not everyone who writes, or will write, for AE frequents this site and reads every post. I know I don't always :p

    2--I believe that, in order to have candid continuity-settling discussions like this, writers will be forced to "show their hands" and reveal various revelations and mysteries to our readers, negating much of the suspense of some of our stories. *Private* e-mails, no, but I think mass e-mails, shared between the team is the way to go. Or maybe some other form of discussion that keeps things behind closed doors. Having worked in other tie-in media, that's just how it's done in order to maintain a unified front and to get our stuff together before we take it to the people. I was under the impression that this particular blog was designed to reveal behind-the-scenes thought processes of things that have already been identified or to discuss established continuity that doesn't necessarily fit in the confines of a narrative structure. I might be wrong, but I don't think this is the place to settle new continuity.

    For instance, I know what Jeff, as an example, might like to see in the future, but I wouldn't want him to post that--even as just an idea--out here in front of God and everybody to see. It would completely ruin the layout of his future stories and how the public learns of things. Perhaps we could hold those types of discussions elsewhere, where interested contributors can debate, but keep from airing our "dirty laundry", as it were, in front of the readership.

    That's just my thought. And, no, I didn't actually have any thoughts on your other points :p But they ARE important points!

  6. I plan on featuring demons in my upcoming posts...and I haven't been thinking of them in allegorical terms either.

  7. For the record, I'm open to coordinating by email if that works better.

  8. Travis is correct that we've reached a point where coordination between authors of intersecting storylines is essential to avoid our continuity turning into a chocolate mess, particularly with complex issues like the Angels that several writers have glommed onto. Informal e-mails, chats, etc. can work for this, but we may need to move to something more structured as the backstory grows.

    Greg is correct that this probably isn't the proper forum for such coordination. As I understand it, this forum is meant to introduce authors and major story threads, locations, technology, cultural elements, etc, to provide some insights on how we came up with some of these ideas. Discussions about upcoming material or the ultimate destination of these storylines needs to stay behind the curtain.

    Re Travis' questions:

    1. I think the structure of the colony and its environs allows for a multilayered spectrum of wealth from super-rich to super-poor and everything in-between. Some of the wealthy will be reinvesting most of their income into their enterprises (e.g., the Spacers), others will simply wall themselves off and consume (e.g., Slugs/Gamers).

    2. As Grace envisioned it, the colony has had several catastrophic events in its history that have fragmented, but not erased, its collective memory and database. Old Earth is still remembered, but the memories are filtered through the lens of what has survived. Printed books might hold up better than electronic databases in some instances, and a variety of means to preserve, replicate, or extend knowledge would be in play, such as Walt's monasteries.

    3. There are, as you've observed, several different interpretations in play, though they don't have to be in conflict if handled properly. My approach has been to assume Clarke's Law is heavily at work here, with highly-advanced technologies (or alien psionic abilities) becoming at times indistinguishable from magic, and that perception will depend on the observer. So, we may have two different characters who have two very different ideas about who/what the Angels and Wizards are, and that's not a bug, it's a feature. That sort of misunderstanding is story fodder. I don't think the episodes presented to date portray the Angels as supernatural beings in fact, but only in certain characters' perception. I agree they can't be simultaneously supernatural beings and alien biological life forms. The original concept for AE allowed for supernatural storylines, but I agree that these would need to be managed very carefully.

    4. The colony's physical and social structure, to my mind, strongly suggests an inconsistent employment of law enforcement, powerful in the more civilized areas, weak in the hinterlands, and corrupt to varying levels in both (think Firefly).

    This is where things become more challenging. Collaborative writing will energize this enterprise, but it's hard work. We can't just flip stories out there anymore without doing some homework and cross-talk first.


  9. Thank you everyone for your contributions here and for the significance you lay on this. And thanks, Fred, for those very good answers! Couldn't have done better myself. That's a great start to resolutions right there.

    I started this blog in the hopes that we could avoid having to start yet another yahoo loop, but if we are going to do much private email discussion, that is probably the easiest way to manage it and be sure everyone who wants to is kept in the loop. I'll set it up in the next day or two, after I get a couple of books out the door for Splashdown... ;)

  10. I thought this blog was private, for authors only, by invitation only.
    That is, until the other day when I came to IAE WITHOUT logging in first.
    Silly me.