Author Topic: Feedback/criticism/brainstorming help wanted on story element concept  (Read 2407 times)

Buddy Bradley

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I'm currently in the planning/worldbuilding stages of a novel that I want to get started on this summer. This is a description of an element in the setting - not a central one, but just part of what makes up the world the characters live in. I want to get some feedback on the concept, whether it is original, and any important factors I might be missing or haven't thought about.
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Pelund is a harsh, unforgiving environment blanketed by snow and ice. Snowstorms are frequent, and even when the weather is fine it is still a challenge to survive - you need to keep moving, if you don't want to freeze to death. Hunting is possible, as there are animals that have adapted to the cold, but they generally provide lean pickings to the people who live in this bleak country.

And yet, there are villages, towns, even cities in Pelund, where the inhabitants live and work, experiencing no discomfort or hardship. Gamling's Fire protects them.

A small barrel (embossed with an ornate letter G) is enough for the average hamlet. It is placed in the centre of the community, and the handle on the top of the barrel is turned, pushed in a little, then removed to release the Fire. It spurts upward like a fountain, a hundred feet into the air, before it starts to spread outwards and slowly descend towards the ground. After only a few minutes, a perfect dome has formed above the village, centered on the Gamling barrel, which continues to pump out its orange glow into the sky. Inside the dome, the air is warm and fragrant, the temperature pleasant; a warm summer's day in the middle of a raging snowstorm.

In larger populated areas, several barrels may be used, placed at strategic distances from each other, creating a network of bubbles below which the residents can live. Larger towns or cities use larger barrels, double the height of a man, mounted atop great stone plinths and protected by the city guard.

There are also much smaller versions of the Fire: knee-high barrels just large enough to shelter a camp for a night, and others that are small enough to hold in your hand and can be used to warm the inside of a cottage, or placed inside a wagon used to transport flowers or other goods that would perish on the sub-zero journey north.

My main concern is in either overplaying or underplaying the importance of the continued supply of this material to the country. Obviously controlling the supply is a powerful political tool, and the threat of being "cut off" would be significant, but I'm not sure how to engineer that it not be the most important factor in society... :-\

Glaurung

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Gamling's Fire sounds interesting - I'm pretty sure I haven't run into anything like it before.

I can see why you're concerned about it being the most important factor in society, because it looks to me very much as if it is. As far as I can see, the survival of any significant community is absolutely dependent on it. How much effect that has depends on how widespread the ability is to make it. If there's one source (which is what your description implies to me), its owner will be king - probably a more absolute ruler than any in our world. If it can be made by anyone with a bit of effort and/or knowledge, it will be a necessity of life, but no more so than say food.

On which subject, I can see food being a problem too. The sort of sub-arctic environment you describe isn't going to provide enough food for a large population, even if they can keep warm. Are they growing crops and/or raising animals under Gamling's Fire too?

I'm also wondering now what it costs to make Gamling's Fire. It seems to be quite widely available, so it must be fairly cheap.

Buddy Bradley

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Thanks, all good points. (I'm reconsidering the name now; it had been nagging at me so I checked, and Gamling is the dude from LotR who comes across Aragorn et al in Rohan.)


Perhaps I should tone down the arctic overtones of the non-Fire protected parts a little, so that survival isn't such a challenge outside of those areas that have it. I had always intended that there would be communities existing normally without the benefit of the Fire, surviving by hunting and fishing, since there would need to be a steady trade in furs for anyone travelling in the region. Maybe if those communities are simply bloody cold rather than Everest-like in their inhospitability, the Fire would not be such an essential factor in survival?


The point about raising crops/animals for food is good too - although there must be parallels in our world, like the Eskimos or Northern Europeans. What do they grow in Siberia, or northern Norway/Finland? I guess basing it all on imports is impractical...

Jubal

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The Inuit, at least those who survive without constant imports, are more or less entirely carnivorous hunters - which is a lifestyle that can't support terribly large town & city populations. Fish are also very important - inland communities at those latitudes would I think struggle significantly more. Also, seasonal migrations are worth taking into account.

It sounds in your initial description like the fire is something that gets activated rather than being in constant use, which is interesting.

My thought would be, in terms of climate, to make it a bit more just "bloody cold", but introducing some seasonal variation which could make the whole thing make a bit more sense. So in summer things green up a little, there are a few plants growing in the valleys though not a complete thaw in the hills and still with regular snowfall. This is a time when the fire isn't necessary for survival, and indeed poorer communities probably don't use it; in larger settlements it could be an act of euergetism to provide "superfluous" but pleasant fire-domes to the grateful poor. This also solves your food problem if migratory animals are available to stock food up for part but not all of the year, and also this will be when trade routes are open by which the larger settlements send huge quantities of furs and leather south in order to import grain and other agricultural produce (this is basically how the colonies of French Canada worked). Trade is definitely a necessity if you want settlements of any size to make sense here; possibly mining as well as skin trading could explain how the trade balance is sufficient for city-size places to exist? Basing it on imports isn't necessarily impractical, as long as you can explain the trade routes and why it's worth people carting that much food that far north.

In the winter, on the other hand, the weather could get an awful lot more extreme. The fire becomes then a necessary protection for any sizeable settlement to stop raging blizzards; smaller settlements without the fire retreat into igloo-like burrows or caves with heaps of supplies for the worst 2-3 months, existing only extremely precariously, whereas larger settlements with the fire are able to carry on functioning as normal. This is crucial for their more developed economies, especially in tanning and metalwork, which can then carry on rather than halting entirely in the winter months.

Those were my thoughts anyway, hope they make some minimal amount of sense/are helpful as vague suggestions :)
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Clockwork

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It depends on how you want to set your tone. If you're going grimdark then you can always let people die in droves every generation, more so if they get cut off from the firebarrels and throw in a little cannibalism for good measure. If you're going for 'authenticity' then you need to have a clear set of rules as to what this stuff does (which you almost have) and if you're going for a comical tone then roast marshmallows over those things :)

You wrote a knee height barrel is enough for a tent however it also probably qualifies as a small barrel which you stated is enough for a hamlet.
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Buddy Bradley

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In the winter, on the other hand, the weather could get an awful lot more extreme. The fire becomes then a necessary protection for any sizeable settlement to stop raging blizzards; smaller settlements without the fire retreat into igloo-like burrows or caves with heaps of supplies for the worst 2-3 months, existing only extremely precariously, whereas larger settlements with the fire are able to carry on functioning as normal. This is crucial for their more developed economies, especially in tanning and metalwork, which can then carry on rather than halting entirely in the winter months.
And have people ominously muttering about how "Winter is coming", you mean?  ;D


I like the idea of a summer, albeit a brief one when the trade routes open (although I plan to still have traders operating in the colder months too). Perhaps I need to scale down the maximum size of settlements to a handful of large towns - the geography of the area has a large port in the north which is the only route for many imports intended for lands to the south.

Buddy Bradley

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You wrote a knee height barrel is enough for a tent however it also probably qualifies as a small barrel which you stated is enough for a hamlet.
In my mind a small barrel is waist-height (or dwarf/hobbit size, if you prefer). Smaller ones around a foot in height are enough for a tent or cottage; fist-sized ones will heat a carriage.