Culture isn't the symphony and ballet...


We have a wonderful variety of customs, social mores, rituals, rites, belief systems, political systems, and so on that it's truly difficult to invent something that hasn't been done before in some way, shape or form.

Generally, too, the science fiction/fantasy author is going to deliberately shape his or her alien culture to meet the plot demands. And applying "there has to be a reason" to what we already have of the three-sexed aliens starts to shape the way they lived their lives.

There isn't, obviously, only one reason why things are the way there are. Someone else could have set up a consistent and reasonable alien society that looks entirely different from the one I eventually designed while using the same starting point. That's fine. But here was my thinking...

Since the aliens were extinct at the time of human colonization, it made sense to keep their technology level rather low -- maybe to tribal levels. I didn't want their ruins to be everywhere, and I didn't want the humans picking up technological help from those ruins. So the aliens were confined to a defined portion of the main continent, also fitting in with the low-tech vision.

The intent of the third sex is to keep the mutation under control. To do that, the 'midmales' must be structured to copulate with as much of the population as possible. What flows from that is: a) while you could still have male/female monogamy (if so desired), social mores are such that there's no stigma attached to having sex with the midmales; b) the midmales are mobile, moving around and generally forming no permanent lasting relationships (which has the added advantage of spreading the genetic material around).

That second point made me think of the mendicant religious orders of medeival times. Good -- then the midmales belonged to a semi-religious order, based somewhere in the area, and they traveled around to the various tribal settlements via a system of roads, perhaps stopping at established wayhouses on their travels.

And I knew where I wanted this midmale religious order to be based. In THE LIFE AND DEATH OF A DRUID PRINCE, there's an evocative passage about the Roman general Suetonius's invasion of England, and the druids screaming curses and spells at the Roman troops from their sacred island of Anglesey. In tribute to that, I placed the headquarters of the alien midmales on an island (AnglSaiye) just off the coast. (And yes, the anal retentive in me wanted to see what it looked like, so I've since put together a Bryce2 image of AnglSaiye -- which you can see in The Attic.)

Bits and pieces of their culture came from the little bit of writing I already had. Since I wanted the finding of the bog body to be something of great import, especially with the realization that this was one of the rare midmales, then there must have been no remains to unearth in the time the colonists had been there -- okay, so they routinely cremated their dead, which would leave nothing but charred bits of bone, and the bog body would then be the first intact specimen ever recovered.

I wanted the aliens to have a written language, but rather than having them write on books or scrolls, I wanted them to carve mysterious symbols on stelae. There was no particular 'reason' for this, but standing stones echoed the source material for some of what I'd already put together, so it felt right.

I'm not going to belabor this... The hope is that you get the overall sense of how building an alien culture works. Each question you answer will in turn lead you to another question, and over time you not only have accumulated a big pile of paper (or several K of hard disk space) of notes, but you also have an excellent idea of how your aliens should act and behave. For the book, I had originally put together an appendix on the Miccail (as the aliens came to be called... more on that later), 'written' by some un-named human scholar a few years after the events of the book. In the end, the decision was made not to include the various appendices I'd created, but if you're interested, click here to read the appendix on the Miccail.

Having the aliens is only half the battle in any 'first contact' book. There's a second and equally importnat component to consider: the humans who interact with the aliens. Just as you put together an alien and an alien culture, you also have to consider the human element...

TO MOVE ON, CLICK ON THE "HUMANS" STONE BELOW.


 

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