World Building Progress

I don’t do much world building these days. Most of what I need is already done, and I feel I have a good grasp of how my setting works. Lately, there’s really only been one thing bothering me: cars.

On the surface, my setting is your regular, bog standard fantasy world. It’s got elves and magic and dragons and all that. What sets it apart is that it’s not stuck in the middle ages, but has continued to develop until it’s at roughly the same stage as the real world of today.

There are cellphones, TV, internet, and all that regular stuff that you and I come across in our everyday lives.

What’s been bothering me for a long time is that I’ve had this idea that I don’t want people to have cars. You shouldn’t just be able to jump into your car and drive somewhere. If you want to travel you’d have to take the train, or something.

I don’t have a perfectly good explanation for why I want this. I just do. It feels good.

The issue has been that I haven’t had a good explanation for why there aren’t any cars. I’ve come up with several half-decent ideas, but they’ve all had their shortcomings.

I could have made fuel rare and expensive, but eventually someone would have come up with another option to power cars (batteries, for example).

I had a great idea that I called Critical Instability, which explained why regular internal combustion engines wouldn’t work. It’s an interesting option, but wouldn’t work for jet stream engines. Already today there are cars that use jet engines, so it’s not too far fetched to assume the technology would have developed in my setting too.

I tried to think of some kind of political reasoning for why cars wouldn’t be allowed, but that just got a bit too absurd.

Eventually, and thanks to a good friend, the idea of Soul Friction came up. In short, Soul Friction is an effect that limits the speed at which a person can travel before their soul starts taking damage.

I’ll explain in more detail, but first I’ll need to explain a little bit about more about how the world I’ve created works.

Souls

All living things, and some things that aren’t, have a soul. Your soul is a part of you. Exactly what it is and how it works is still uncertain, but there’s no doubt that souls exist and that they’re vital to life.

Your soul may be attached to another, new-born, body when you die, allowing for reincarnation. It could be the soul gets merged with your god when you die, or it may go on living its own life in the aether once your body dies.

Exactly what happens with your soul when you die is unclear, but most likely it goes on in some way – without your physical self. If your soul is damaged that may not happen, and if the soul is destroyed, well, then it can’t happen (also, you die).

Damaging your soul is bad.

The soul is also used for channeling the aether, which is a requirement for being able to wield magic. In fact, it is only through the soul that living beings are able to interact with the aether in a controlled fashion.

The Aether

The aether is the fuel that powers magic. It exists everywhere on the planet in one way or another.

The properties of the aether depends on your geographical location as well as on your altitude. At the poles, the aether is almost completely stable, making it very hard to channel and manipulate. The closer you get to the equator the less stable it gets.

At the equator itself the aether is so unstable and chaotic that mere thoughts (including dreams) of untrained magic users can set off magical effects. This is why travel between the northern and southern hemisphere is risky enough as to be practically impossible.

The aether is also affected by altitude. At sea level, the aether is dense and thick. There’s plenty of it to go around. At higher altitudes the aether gets thinner.

Soul Friction

Like I mentioned earlier, it’s only through the soul that living beings are able to interact with the aether. It stands to reason there’s some kind of connection between the soul and the aether.

When a living being passes through the world, its soul passes through the aether. Unfortunately, the soul can’t pass through the aether unhindered. There is some friction. If the soul travels too fast through the aether the friction becomes too much and starts to erode the soul.

A little bit of damage can be recovered, and the soul can heal, but if the soul travels too fast, too far, or too often, the damage becomes irreparable and the soul becomes permanently damaged. If this continues, the soul can, and will, be destroyed completely (and that’s bad).

The amount of soul friction varies between different living beings, but is generally assumed to be a function of the speed the being can achieve on its own without outside help.

For example, a falcon diving towards a mouse can reach significantly higher speeds than a turtle, and the falcon’s soul is a lot more tolerant to soul friction.

Cars

It’s when you start to move at speeds which are not natural to you that you begin to endanger your soul, like for example if you were driving a car.

Cars are technically possible, but driving one for any considerable distance, speed, or regularity, means you’ll end up damaging your soul, possibly beyond repair. This isn’t a risk many people are willing to take, and because of this, cars have never really taken off as a mode of transportation in the world.

Trains

Now, why would trains be okay, but not cars? Trains can travel both far and fast, and the people staffing the trains are onboard all the time. Would they not burn out their souls pretty fast?

The trick with trains is that they’re “grounded” through the rails they run on.

Exactly how this grounding works I haven’t fully worked out yet, but I feel like that’s a relatively minor detail. It’s something that can be worked on.

It may be that the vibrations in the rails caused by the oncoming train destabilises the aether around the track, making it easier for souls to pass through. I’m not entirely pleased with that being the only explanation, but it could be a factor at least.

Another factor could be that train will gather a larger number of passengers (souls) and that souls have an easier time passing through the aether as a group. Perhaps they gather some of the surrounding aether to themselves and use that as an insulating layer to protect themselves against soul friction?

Yes, there are questions left to answer, but at least I feel like I’m on the right track here (yes, pun intended).

Airships

Another mode of transportation is by airship: zeppelins, blimps, dirigibles – that kind of thing. These travel at speeds higher than what any human can achieve on their own, but still slower than a train.

The reason they’re able to travel that fast without being grounded is because of the altitude. The higher up they are, the thinner the aether, and the less of an issue soul friction becomes.

Summary

Like I mentioned above, there are still questions to be answered about the details of Soul Friction, but I feel they’re relatively minor compared to what I had before.

Before, I had no good reason for why there weren’t cars, and now I do. The issue I have now is that I don’t have a fully satisfying reason for why trains are still practical and viable as a mode of transportation.

That’s something I’ll figure out along the way at some other point.

World Building Progress

To Sleep Like A White Dragon

In my novel, and in my current work in progress the following phrase appears:

He/She would sleep like a white dragon.

My beta reader asked me where the expression comes from and what the story behind it is. I figured it’d be a great topic for a blog post.

The first thing to do is to explain how dragons work in the setting I’ve created.

Dragons

Dragons are the manifestation of the most intense feelings of the inhabitants of the world.

Dragons are not born. They’re spawned from the aether (the same aether that’s used for working magic) when a large enough amount of people experience the same kind of emotion intensely enough, or for a long enough period of time.

Once this happens, a dragon manifests out of thin air in the same general area as the people experiencing the emotion.

The size of the dragon varies depending on the amount of people and the strength of the emotion that spawns it. The larger the group and the stronger the emotion, the larger the dragon.

Similarly, the color of the dragon depends on the emotion that causes it to manifest.

Historically, most dragons have spawned at the scenes of battle, where the rage and fear of the soldiers fighting and dying can easily cause a dragon to manifest. Dragons have also been common during spectacular natural events/disasters, such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and solar eclipses.

When a dragon spawns it is almost completely ruled by the emotion that spawned it. A dragon of fear, or of rage, is like a mindless force of nature, violently lashing out at anyone or anything within sight or reach. It is also the emotion that gives the dragon the energy it needs to survive and once the emotion subsides, so does the dragon run out of energy and die.

However, given enough time and emotional energy, the dragon might survive for long enough to develop sentience and intelligence enough to survive on its own. Dragons are real living beings and will get by on food and water once they figure out that they need it.

That’s the short of it. I wrote a slightly longer and more detailed article about dragons a few years back. You can read it on my wiki, here.

The Color of Dragons

As mentioned above, the emotion that spawns a dragon is reflected in the color of its scales. The currently known dragon colors are:

  • Black: Fear
  • Black: Sorrow (yes, there are two kinds of black dragons)
  • Red: Rage
  • Gold: Joy
  • White: Serenity
  • Grey: Despair

Unconfirmed or mythical dragon colors are:

  • Yellow: Excitement
  • Pink: Love

For more detailed explanations of the various colors of dragons, check out the article on the wiki linked above.

White Dragons

Of the different dragon types listed above, the white dragons are the ones that have the longest lifespan on average. It is not practically possible to gather a sufficiently large amount of people and keep them calm enough for long enough to spawn a dragon. Instead, white dragons are spawned over very long periods of time in locations where people come to seek peace and relaxation.

Once a white dragon has spawned in such a location, people do not stop coming there. The continue to seek out the location, taking the dragon as evidence that this is a spot where you can truly find your peace of mind. This means the dragon does not run out of the emotional energy that sustains it, and it remains a living breathing being for as long as people come to share in its peace.

The expression “sleep like a white dragon” comes from how the white dragons are already asleep when they manifest. In fact, most of the ones currently in existence have never woken up at all, but keep sleeping and dreaming. According to official records, the currently oldest white dragon has slept for nearly eight hundred years in a small anfylk temple deep in the Snaggfel Mountains. Rumor has it there are even older ones in other places, but this has not been confirmed by any official sources – and it probably won’t ever be.


I hope this explains the expression and the history behind it, but if something is unclear, or if you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

To Sleep Like A White Dragon

Kin And Unkin

Writing in English when it’s not my native language will occasionally provide some interesting challenges – mostly when it comes to translations.

In Swedish, the words knytt and oknytt are references to little creatures of uncertain definition. The word knytt is sometimes also used for a small child, in an endearing way. If you put the word knytt into google, the first page will be full of links to a computer game with the name.

In the Moomin books of Tove Jansson (on of my most favorite authors) knytt are little harmless, emotional, and slightly confused creatures. They pop up now and then in the stories, usually with no real import to the plot, but still adding a little bit of color to the world.

Knytt might live here. Photo from the park around Blarney Castle.
Knytt might live here. Photo from the park around Blarney Castle.

To me, knytt is a collective term for little beings that live out in nature, in trees, or under rocks or little holes in the ground – stuff like that. Apart from that, they’re not strictly defined – and that’s kind of important. Sometimes they talk, sometimes they don’t. They’re secretive little beings that you don’t really know very much about, except they’re there.

They’ll be nice and friendly and they’ll stay out of your way as much as possible. They’d invite you for tea and talk about the weather, if only you weren’t so big and scary, and if only they’d remember to do the dishes.

In a way, they’re sort of like your regular birds and animals, except they’re people too.

Then there’s oknytt. They’re the same thing, except they’re mean.

The important thing to me isn’t to define exactly what knytt and oknytt are, but the feeling that the concepts invoke when used in a story. It’s not about describing a certain kind of being, but about setting a scene. I think that’s why the translation is so difficult.

I’ve pretty much given up on finding an acceptable standalone translation for each of the two words. There’s just too much that gets lost in translation. However, using the words together as a phrase, the translation becomes easier. Knytt och oknytt can be translated as kin and unkin (och = and). In the third chapter of Emma’s Story I use the phrase like this:

The cold winter night drains all warmth from the world, and a pale moon shines on hillsides covered in snow. Kin and unkin stalk and prey on each other in dark woods, and in burrows and villages, sensible fylk sleep and dream of summer.

By doing it that way, I’m getting that there’s some kind of conflict between the kin and the unkin, which brings a lot more life to the expression. I’d probably have managed that feel even without mentioning that they stalk and prey on each other, but that highlights it even more. It gives the sense that out in the forest, there are unknowns which struggle against each other for survival (and that’s the important part – even if the stalk and prey part doesn’t quite match with my description of knytt earlier).

In a way, there’s no easy answer to the question “What is a kin?” Then again, you could say that it’s a trick of words used to evoke a certain kind of feeling when describing a setting – but that does seem a bit dull, doesn’t it?

Kin And Unkin