The constellation of the Whale, or Cetus, is one of the largest constellations in the sky. It lies slightly south of the ecliptic plane, just below Pisces.
The planet Eclectia orbits the star 94 Ceti, which has a much more distant binary star. This double star system is 73 light years from Earth, making it a plausible target for a generation ship that does not reach lightspeed.
The planet orbits its star once every 454 days. We have incorporated this directly into the setting, this being the length of the colony's years: 15 months of 30 days each, plus the 4 day Festival of Founding. The years are also called Foundings.
The real planet's average orbit is 1.3 astronomical units from its star, i.e. 30% farther than Earth is from our sun. This means it is within the range able to support life.
Scientifically, this planet's mass has been estimated at twice that of Jupiter. Here is where we cross the line into fiction: our planet Eclectia is only a little larger than Earth. However, one way we could explain this is if the gas giant shared an orbit with Eclectia, but on the exact opposite side, and therefore invisible from Eclectia—just as Eclectia is invisible to current astronomy.
Although this is only the 94th brightest star in the constellation, we decided to have the people who live there call it the Whale Star, while its binary companion is the Twin Whale. The planet orbits the star, and the binary star orbits them both at over 100x the distance. Therefore, the binary star would be about as bright as our moon when viewed from the planet.
Twin Whale cycles don’t match Eclectia’s orbit, and its visibility from the planet varies from nothing at all, to nighttime or daytime, sometimes too close to the primary star to be seen.
We gave Eclectia a moon, named Sheba, which split in half in a violent volcanic cataclysm just before the Founders arrived. Yes, this is the fictional part, but its science is still important. The smaller part of Sheba was named Quatermain, and the two are in close planetary orbit, and still close to each other.
Sheba, Quatermain and the Twin Whale all exert strong and opposing gravitational forces on Eclectia, giving the signature "planetary wobble." The angle of its axis travels between two extremes every five days, which in turn gives short and extreme seasons of heat and cold to those on the planet.
The gravitational forces are also partly responsible for the highly seismic and volcanic nature of the planet.
Into this world, we placed the following settings:
The Avenir, the original generation ship that came from Earth, now an orbiting station expanded far beyond its original size. As a general guideline, we have imagined the technology here to approximate the late 21st century. There are huge gaps between the rich and the poor. Types of inhabitants include:
· At the highest level of Avenir are the Dreamers, a leadership team descended from the original ship's crew. They live in virtual reality.
· Bureaucrats/aristocrats: The rich live in safety on the station.
· Ordinary people: merchants, workers, security, etc.
· Cyborgs (sentenced criminals who do menial work)
Undersea cities: safer than land-based, because they float, and thus are protected from earthquakes. Water also serves as a measure of protection from volcanoes. The technology level here could be described as early 21st century.
· Zirconia (North Polar Sea, near Adagio)
· Port X (North Polar Sea)
· Christchurch (South Polar Sea; home to the University)
Land settlements: Hunting, mining and gathering still have to go on. It is here that the worst extremes of nature must be endured—earthquakes, volcanoes, dust storms, and giant bugs. Technology here is largely pre-industrial.
Moon and asteroid settlements
· Ore mines
· Religious communities
· Ice mines
Various vessels that travel between these.
· Passenger shuttles
· Cargo ships
· Ore herders
· Space pirates
All of these facts inform the writing of the stories and characters set in these places.
· Land-dwellers (grit-breathers) are hardened survivors.
· City-dwellers (undersea or Avenir) are more what we could consider "normal", except for Dreamers and cyborgs etc.
· Natural circumstance and disasters can be the beginnings of stories.
The Collaborative Work of Avenir Eclectia
Many of the above details were created together with the authors of Avenir Eclectia who came on board at my invitation. To start everyone off, I laid out the basics: colony ship turned space station, dangerously seismic planet, undersea cities, giant bugs and telepathic sea creatures. There was not much more to it than that in the beginning, but everyone’s stories working together have built a mosaic view of a much deeper world with hundreds of episodes—and yet because these episodes are short, they still all fit within the length of about two standard novels.
Authors who join up with us now are encouraged to read the existing material, whether online or in the book, where selected storylines have been woven together in a more coherent manner than we were able to do on the run as we went along. There are background articles and also a mail loop where questions can be asked and story overlaps discussed.
Stories often feature other authors’ characters. This helps bring the whole narrative together as a unified storyline. Of course, this necessitates discussion and approval from a character’s creator.
Becoming a contributor is a challenge on the one hand, because you have to know all the existing parameters of the storyworld. But on the other hand, this makes it easier because all you have to do is read a book or two and you’ll have all the background you need—without having to set it all up yourself.
Herding the Cats of Avenir Eclectia
by Travis Perry—Co-Editor of Avenir Eclectia Volume 1
Multiple authors clearly enrich an overall story universe and Avenir Eclectia has been no exception. Each of us think of things that others would not think of and pursue different story aspects of the shared universe that other authors would not touch. At times though, dealing with the diversity is a little like herding cats. Yes, it's true that the Avenir Eclectia story universe is very large, with many corners to explore, but especially at first, authors produced ideas that directly contradicted those of other authors' stories. Part of this is because we were all submitting stories at once and each of us defining things without seeing what anothers had brought about. Money was described in various stories as both coinage but also as “credits.” Bibles were both printed books like we know and human beings trained over decades in the memorization of every word of Scripture, then sent out to churches. The “Peace Council” was treated as the government of Avenir--no wait, the government of the entire colony, land, sea, and space--no wait, as a sort of grand jury and administrative supervision of the peacekeepers and enforcers, those who do the work equivalent to the FBI and local police of our world. Grace created the idea that the story world would have what we call “wizards.” But from the beginning, some writers treated the wizards as another name for “scientist,” while others treated them more like what you'd see at Hogwarts. And there were a number of other contradictions in things both large and small.
In short, nobody wanted to create a unified story history deliberately. So we didn't. The bits and bobs of our common story history have been built by individual writers doing their own thing, like writers tend to do. Contradictions, such as they are, have been dealt with on an ad hoc basis. But most contradictions have tended to disappear by the nature of each of us reading one another's work and getting a unified feel from that of what the story world is and contains.
For example, the alien dwellers of Eclectia's oceans have powers we might call “psionic.” Wizards are scientists, but one of their main topics of study has been the angels...and some few of them can reproduce some of the powers of the angels. So an explanation has developed to reconcile what once seemed to be a contradition.
At one time I attempted to get us to set up a system where we would openly discuss all things of a contradictory nature and come to a mutual agreement on every detail of where we were going to take the story world. My labors bore partial fruit in that Grace established an “Avenir Eclectia Historians” Yahoo group where we can hash things out as we need to. But we haven't coordinated all things through that forum. Some authors prefer to coordinate with other authors through private emails, or not to coordinate at all—and time has shown there isn't anything wrong with that. Overall, the ad hoc method has worked and has added richness to the story universe.
Some of the things that were bothering me I wrote stories to address. For example, what is the government of this unified colony and what is its money? Well, if almost all the unified government does is provide law enforcement, then it make sense that the Peace Council would also act pretty much as a Grand Jury. And also, since they are treated as the Avenir government, that would mean they primarily represent the interests of Avenir and to a lesser degree the spacers, as opposed to the undersea colonies or surface cities. So that means other aspects of government are handled locally, in a political system that in some aspects resembles modern Afghanistan—I wrote a tale where the mayor of Adagio and the Lieutenant of Zirconia (I imagined at least some of the undersea colonies call their equivalent of a mayor a “Captain”) and the appointed “Governor” from Avenir are all in opposition to one another, with the Lieutenant bribing the mayor for greater influence...I also used the story to address the issue of money. Credits come from Avenir and are the equivalent of electronic or paper currency. But these are only redeemable for the most part with merchants from Avenir, so their very existence is a means to maintain Avenir's commercial dominance over the rest of the colony. Unstamped metal coinage is preferred by Eclectia settlements but is also used by spacers, but is only used on Avenir in limited circumstances, such as the black market economy.
I wound up as a by-product of my efforts creating a political situation in which the undersea colonies and surface dwellers at one time asserted their own independence, but lost in a brief but bloody war between them and Avenir and the spacers (which is why the common government, limited as it is, is called the “Peace Council”--because it ended the one and only true war). That political solution explains why there is no true military in the Avenir Eclectia story universe—peacekeeprs and enforcers fill whatever roles a military would perform, even though they are more like civilian police. But politically speaking, the undersea colonies are looking to the day when they will finally achieve true independence, seething against the yoke of the Avenir government, plotting to overthrow it, even as limited as that government is...
Fred Warren's Dreamer and Gamer stories make it plain that for a large elite on Avenir, their access to technology exceeds what we have in our current world. But clearly, this is not the case on the surface, where the preferred method to hunt giant bugs for sale back on Avenir is with spears. So in comparing these divisions, I found they logically fit together to create a world where the people of Avenir have limited space for everyone, but a sharp division between rich and poor, with more access to technology than we have today for the richest, as do the spacers, though spacers mostly have a blue collar sort of environment reminiscent of what you see on a deep sea oil rig. The undersea colonies also have limited space and a sharp division between rich and poor, but are more egalitarian overall than Avenir and live in a way somewhat like the way we do in the early twenty-first century.
Eclectia has vast stretches of territory, but that territory is very inhospitable, barely able to sustain a growing human population, but that population is continually replenished by the overflow of excess population from Avenir and the undersea colonies—who usually are the most despirate and the poorest of the poor from those places. With exceptions among miners and to a degree the cities, vast stretches of Eclectia are like Afghanistan, barely inhabited, with high levels of illiteracy (which makes training human “Bibles” make more sense), and those who do inhabit it live with technology that in most aspects is essentially medieval. You have to be tough to survive on Eclectia...but many do not, which is why there are so many stories that feature orphans in the Avenir Eclectia universe...
So in the end, between deliberate efforts and things that happened by chance, between efforts to coordinate and stories written to make coordination, and even from failures of efforts to coordinate, the cats of the Avenir Eclectia stories have wound up pulling a chariot—a rich, diverse, and very interesting science fiction story universe.