Tag Archives: world-building

Brake, Horse Power

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When people add coaches, carriages, wagons, and carts to their stories, they often do enough research to find out they may have something called “brakes” and then treat them largely as autos or trucks with horses up front. (Less often, mules, donkeys, camels, zebras, oxen, elephants, or carabao, not to mention moose, caribou, goats, or dogs for motive power.)

In an auto, you can be zooming at freeway speeds, stomp the brakes, and come down to a complete stop. But auto brakes are complicated and highly engineered, even before they were computerized. You have the force multiplier of hydraulic systems in power brakes. You have the brake shoes exerting friction against the whole brake drum.

On a carriage, you have a pivoted stick exerting friction against several inches of the iron tire on a four-foot-high wheel. That’s all.

Let’s get the variations that make no difference brushed aside and call it a horse-drawn coach. Think of it as a British mail coach or a frontier stage coach or a polished private coach – doesn’t matter. What matters is that none of these can be stopped at any notable speed by the mechanical brake.

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Why Not Cookies, Coffee, and Maize?

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… or, Why exotic modern foods are out of place in most herofi or highfy.

The first reason to avoid artifacts of our post-renaissance worldwide culture is atmosphere. If you want your reader to immerse in your medievalesque world, don’t keep swatting them in the face with things that don’t feel medieval. If you want a feel of the Orient, don’t bring in New World stuff and if you want a Mesoamerican ambiance, keep European stuff out of the mix.

Particularly, I recall objecting to characters eating cinnamon cookies in a northern mountain culture, in a ms I critted for a workshop. The author’s attitude was that they were technologically possible, so why not? My objection was that “cookies” were unnecessarily shoving 21st century America into a world so alien it didn’t have dogs or horses. The cookies weren’t necessary to the plot. They were merely cosmetic, and in this case the wrong cosmetics. I mean, in the same village, you might as well serve tamales or have the children play basketball.

They’re just as atmospherically wrong, though technologically possible. They’re just not technologically plausible.

“Cookie” is a specifically American and modern (last couple of centuries) word. “Sweet biscuits” or “sugarcakes” could have served the same purpose without swatting the reader out of immersion.

But are they technologically possible? Read the rest of this entry

That School of Holy Map-Making

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A boffer would have been handy the other day to hit myself in the head with. (Why do we punish ourselves for having just solved the problem?)

One of my big projects had been hanging fire because I had to make a continental-scale map to lay out the states and climate and the military campaigns.

Now, let me say that if your story is about a couple of wandering rogues, you can lay out a map in half an hour — I’ve done it on lined paper during a lecture class. As soon as you bring in military campaigns, you are looking at days of work because you have to either decide on the terrain and make the war fit it, or you have to work out the strategy in detail and make the map suit.

But, whoa, there — why are we laying out maps in any case?

Because someone told us we had to.

Because someone said that without one we will have the city north of the river in this story or chapter and south of it in another.

No, we won’t. Read the rest of this entry