Did I mention the presence of moderate anal retentiveness in me?
I thought so. So what comes next won't really surprise you.
For various reasons, not the least of which was that it felt right, I wanted the human colonists to be cut off from Earth and technology, so their interactions with the world and its inhabitants would be 'pure.' Again, flowing from the "There Has To Be A Reason" mantra, I could begin to see the society I wanted to create...
Most, if not all, readers of science fiction are aware that interstellar travel without the aid of some mythical "Faster Than Light" (FTL) drive is a problem. The nearest star system to Earth, the Centauri system, consists of three stars, the largest of which (Alpha) is 4.34 light years from us -- and since it's a multiple star system, the likelihood that it contains habitable planets is small. Good candidates for Earth-like planets are much further away: a ship with a less-than-light-speed engine is going to take years, decades, or centuries just to get to those star systems. Since in DARK WATER'S EMBRACE, I wanted isolation for the humans, this wasn't a problem -- there are a few ways around the limitations. "Generation ships" are one solution, where the crew simply sets up home in a giant ship with the realization that it might be the original crew's grandchildren who arrive at the eventual destination. Not what I wanted though... Instead, I opted to have the crew in rotating cryogenic sleep for much of the journey (work a year, sleep four years, work a year...) all of them to be awakened only when the ship finds a habitable planet.
So however long the ship is en route, that's also the minimum number of years before a rescue ship can arrive (assuming no breakthrough in interstellar drive technology back home in the meantime).
I did want them to know that Earth was out of contact, so (insert mantra here) while there was no way to physically move faster than light, they did have the technology to communicate in real time over interstellar distances. I also needed an 'excuse' for them not being in touch with Earth all the time they were traveling, so this FTL communicator can't work while the ship's drive is operating. Only when the drive was shut down and the ship was in orbit could the FTL communicator be fired up.
It's one thing not to be able to get back in contact with Earth. But I didn't want the human group heading back home to see what happened. Therefore, not only did they have to be cut off from Earth, they also had to be cut off from the ship in which they arrived. No problem: I invented a shuttle accident that rendered it hopelessly crippled, and which left a group of nine colonists on the planet. (Why nine? I really don't know. It felt right...)
Cut off from Earth, stranded, the technology level might initially be high, but as things broke they couldn't be repaired, and the level of technology fairly quickly become a mix of 'high' and 'low.' This was fine with me; the contrast could be interesting.
Language fascinates me. In many ways, the language of a culture defines that culture. I played with that concept in ALIEN TONGUE, inventing an alien race that, for biological and cultural reasons, had no word in their vocabulary for 'lie' -- a deliberate statement of untruth. Of course, we humans managed to quickly correct that oversight...
I wanted the same kind of interplay of language in this one, especially since I already had some interesting linguistic contortions with the aliens and their third sex. So (since there has to be a reason for such things, right?), I knew that the human expedition was international in scope. That way, I could use a smattering of words and phrases from several languages, which would (hopefully) enrich the 'strangeness' of their culture. I started assembling some of the glossary I wanted to use: from Nahuatl (the Aztec Native American language), I borrowed Mictlan ("The Land of the Dead," which seemed appropriate for this world where the ruins of a sentient civilization would be found). Also from Nahuatl, I took "Miccail" (The Dead) as the human's name for the alien race (they would, of course, have their own name for themselves...). I called their wrecked spaceship the Ibn Battuta, after an Arabian geographer of that name. From Denise's Syrian background, I stole the word "khudda" (excrement) so the characters could cuss in a foreign language...
I bought several foreign language phrase books (Japanese, Russian, French, Spanish, Italian, Serbo-Croatian) just to have on hand.
Anyone who thinks sex and reproduction aren't important hasn't read history or looked at the societies we've built.
Lack of contact with Earth meant several things:
Talk about your reproductive imperatives... Following the (obvious) logic, having children would be Job Number 1. This type of thing has been done before (everything has been done before), but usually badly. I didn't want the standard patriarchal "let's protect the womenfolk and keep them barefoot, pregnant, and safe" male-dominated society here. Following our mantra, here was my thinking:
Oh my God...
Religion has been the engine driving historical events as much as any other cause, and it's difficult to imagine a human society without some sort of religion. Personally, I'm utterly fascinated by religion (though I'm agnostic myself). For DARK WATER'S EMBRACE, I put together another appendix for religion, which again was dropped from the eventual book. Here's what I wrote there -- it explains the thinking I had:
The religious backgrounds of the crew of the Ibn Battuta were as varied as their nationalities: Hindus, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Pantheists, Atheists. The entire alphabet soup of religion, Agnostic to Zen Buddhist, could be found aboard the ship.
However, as the Ibn Battuta left Earth's solar system entirely and continued on into true interstellar space, and as the voyage continued through unending decades, the immense separation from the Earthly origins of those religions sapped them of much of their vitality, and finally snapped the ties of the Earth-based historical biases of the religions. Among the ship members of the Ibn Battuta, a new belief system slowly rose, one that stated that a new world must certainly have new gods and new rites. Borrowing from Shintoism, from Gnostic Christianity, as well as from nature-based religions such as druidism, Wicca and various African mythologies, this belief system (eventually to be called Njia--'the Way' in the African language Kiswahili) stressed a tolerant and harmonious relationship with nature, a ritualized cleanliness and purity, and a sexuality that was decidedly out of the mainstream of Judeo-Christian ethics.
Like the religions from which it had evolved, Njia assumed a pantheon of gods. As the religion evolved, the belief structures became less fluid, evolving into a code of behavior obeyed by most of the Ibn Battuta's crew. Once landfall on Mictlan was made, a Miccailian influence, based on the carvings of their stelae, crept into the religion, along with a plethora of additional minor deities called kami, each of whom inhabited a specific Mictlanian location, linking the forces of nature with divine influence.
In the decades following the tragic loss of the Ibn Battuta, Njia also became more homophobic, particularly regarding lesbianism (unlike western Earth society, which was far less tolerant of male homosexuality than of female -- lesbianism was often used as standard titillation in male pornography). This intolerance reflected the fragile nature of the survivor's society and the importance of reproduction to the survivors of the Ibn Battuta disaster. It must also--to some degree--be laid at the Matriarch Gabriela Rusack's feet, due to her known lesbianism and her steadfast refusal to allow herself to become part of the breeding pool. On the other hand, the patriarchalism and static hierarchy of most Earth religions was entirely lost: Njian beliefs stated that anyone--with sufficient ceremonial purification--could serve as priest. Everyone was encouraged to share the priestly duties, and males and female enjoyed equal status in reality as well as law.
By the end of the first century, Njia had become the de facto official religion of Mictlan. This is not to imply that other religions were entirely abandoned. The Martinez-Santos family had Christian adherents; the Allen-Levin family had Jewish; the Allen-Shimmura had Buddhist/Shinto. There were a few people who professed to believe other Earth-based or Mictlan-influenced religions, and others who believed in nothing at all (Gabriela Rusack, almost certainly tongue-in-cheek, insisted that she firmly believed in the classical Greek pantheon).
However, the vast majority of the society from the beginning were believers in Njia, and practiced those rites and customs. In many ways, the human society of Mictlan functioned as a loose theocracy.
I wanted the novel to take place several generations after the wreck of the ship. In fact, the initial working title for the novel was "Unto The Seventh Generation." I still needed to erect the actual framework of the novel...
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