World Hopping

I am back home from my trip through Canada!  Sorry for the short hiatus. I will hopefully be back on schedule with my blog, well as much as I can be.

While making my way down from Alaska I saw some breathtaking scenery that gave me some ideas about settings in my story.  I have never been very good at describing cities and populated areas as they feel so different from place to place, let alone describing different planets and other areas.  So far I have done well with what I have in Star Catcher, but I know that I will be needing more settings for my stories in the future, especially if I want to expand upon the universe that it is set in.  My big problem is that I have difficulty coming up with names for places, not to mention starships.

Throughout Canada and Alaska, I did see quite a few different types of terrain and ecosystems, the most prominent one being the alpine ecosystem.  I think that’s right.  I had never really experienced what was above the alpine level higher up in the mountains up north.  In Alaska it was ice and rock, but once we crossed the border into Canada and the interior from the coast of Alaska it turned into rolling rocky hills with short twisted pine trees and thick evergreen bushes stunted from the cold winters and the high winds.

Dispersed around were small pools and ponds, with what little vegetation that grew there, surrounding them.  It was also a rather cloudy day, so this whole area was almost literally up in the clouds too, so it was rather misty out.  And this is mid-summer mind you.

Alaska-Canada 056

Looking at the landscape if you are not from the area, you could be on a totally different planet.  Well, if it were an Earth-type planet.  Makes a nice picture though.  This landscape changed the frather into Canada we went.

Alaska-Canada 458

That is some sky!  I tried to get as much of it to fit into my small camera lens as I could as I was driving, but there was no way I was ever going to fit all of it in there!

Now as a Science Fiction writer, its looking at pictures like these that make me stop and think after I’ve taken them what they would look like with the massive sphere of a gas giant peeking over the horizon, dominating the daytime sky… well not really, but it has crossed my mind several times.

In the Star Catcher I did use that mental image though, having the form of an orange gas giant light up the nighttime sky with the glow of the sun reflected off of it.  I actually need to go back and edit that part of the story.  Originally I said that the planet had gone behind the gas giant and into a false night.  That would happen with the false night and all, but I’d said that the gas giant lit up the planet with it’s own glow.  I’m not sure if the gas giant would illuminate a planet in it’s shadow, I’m pretty sure it’s pitch black on the night side of those giants.  So I will have to change that to make it that night had fallen on the planet orbiting the gas giant but that it was still on the sun-ward side of the giant and therefore the reflected light would light up the planet with a reddish glow.

It’s unique settings like these that I love and want to create, but I just am not sure how to populate them– give them the feel that they are well traveled.  I can stick a city with a space port on a planet, but I need to create the feeling of a bustling city, or without it, it’s just a ghost town, which it could be under the right circumstances.

I think I captured the feeling of the busy city in Star Catcher, I really hope I did, but I’m just not quite sure.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and post an excerpt from the story, it shouldn’t have any spoilers in it, hopefully.

The three of them headed into the city with Aronon leading the way.  Since he had been to the planet a couple times before, he had the most knowledge of where they might find the information they were looking for.
Despite the false night cast by the gas giant the city was still very much alive.  The streets weren’t crowded, but they were busy with different species coming and going about their business.  Some lived on the planet, while others were here for business or passing through.
Violet was surprised that there were so many people that actually called this planet home.  With all the crime she assumed went on, she couldn’t possibly see how anyone could feel safe.  She was sure that at least three people they had passed had tried to pickpocket her so far.  And all of them had been human.
“How could you live in a place like this, let alone find a decent job?” she asked.
Aronon and Jayko were walking side by side in front while she brought up the rear.
“There is plenty of work to go around,” said Aronon turning his head to look back at her.  “Everyday commodities here would not be possible without the people who live on this planet to provide them.  They just abide by a different set of laws to ensure their safety.”
“I’ll bet.”
“The city is not that dangerous either if you think that certain gangs or organizations keep the peace in different areas.  I’m sure there is one person who holds control over everyone, though, to keep gang wars to a minimum.”
Violet looked around at the lit windows, the laundry hanging out to dry, strung up between two buildings, the store fronts that were lit brightly, their wares displayed behind bars in the windows.  There was a peacefulness to the false night that she could see.  But there was also an underlying wariness that was brought to the front by her infantry training.

I think I was able to capture the busy city feel, with Violet getting felt up by pickpockets and seeing the laundry hanging from the buildings, but I think I might try to put more of what type of people are there… are they scruffy or clean cut, alien or human, young or old, military or civilian?  That sort of thing.  I actually think that’s a pretty good idea, so I’m going to have to go back and revise that part.

I have always liked the style of writing that gives the reader just enough information to give a general picture of the setting, but then lets their imagination populate it or fill in the little details that they see.  I have a very active imagination when I read books and when a book over-describes something to the point where I don’t get to fill in anything myself, I have trouble picturing what the world looks like as I am trying to piece it together in a way that’s not what I see… if that makes any sense.  That’s just my opinion though and the way I try to write.  It doesn’t always work out though.

The one setting I thought I did well on was the ship itself, Star Catcher.  I didn’t describe it in too much detail aside from that it is a flying brick with retro-thrusters towards the fore of the ship and maneuverable thrusters on either side of the main engines.  These swivel around so the ship can take off and land vertically.  And that’s about as much as I said about the outside.  The inside however I described through the characters movements about the ship and I think that is more or less sufficient enough.  It’s certainly not like we need a blue-print of the layout of the ship, though that would be helpful in describing it.  Hmmm, I may have to do that… I do some sketching once in a blue moon, usually takes me the whole day to do just one picture though.  And it’s usually a very rough picture at that.

Anyway, the one setting that I am having trouble with naming is a planet on the very fringe of known space, well more like beyond it.  The planet is a Earth-type planet with a few small settlements on it that are fairly spread out and it’s mostly subsistence living for the populace as there is very little industry that takes place on the planet (the settlers have tried to keep it as pristine as possible).  For a time the planet did have a grand flying city that floated through the clouds; a gleaming white metropolis dotted with the green of numerous parks and hanging plants in planters all over the city.  Technologically advanced, the people lived harmoniously with each other (as harmoniously as is possible for humans) and with the planet around them.  A utopia in name and likeness… the only problem is, I don’t have a good name for it and I need one.  The city was seen as a threat by outsiders to their way of life and their thinking and it was destroyed, shot out of the sky (this is only half the story, I plan to reveal more sometime in a future book or short-story).

So… the planet is referred to as the “Lost Colony” as it has been forgotten and then rediscovered throughout history time and again, and I refer to the city as the “flying city”, but neither of them have official names.  I’ve toyed with calling it Aerie City, Nimbus City, Alto Cirrus City, City of Aurora (I personally like this one somewhat) and toyed with calling the planet Vunir Colony, but I just don’t like how that sounds.  I’m wracking my brain to try and come up with something that I like, but I just haven’t thought of anything yet and if anyone out there has any ideas at all, I will gladly accept suggestions.  I’m sure I’ll come up with something though and if not, well, I’ll just have to see how the story works without actually naming the planet and the city.  So far it has done more or less well without their names, so who knows.

I think that’s where I’m going to leave it for this post.  Any longer and I will be up all night writing and sleep is a good thing, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!  Cheers!

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