‘The walrus said, to speak of many things, of shoes, of ships, of sealing wax, of cabbages and kings…’
It is entirely possible to confuse the latter two, so it is probably wise to avoid both because regicide is generally considered socially acceptable but regiphagy can give you gas, just like cabbages… eh. forgive me. Cloud-Castles is at least out in the real world (the name is a link, and it goes through my associates account, so I get a few extra cents for it, if you buy via that link) and it’s been a long slow train coming.
It’s a book of many parts, all interlocking from different sources. Yes, I stand on the shoulders of giants, and, unlike so many of woke new authors, have no problem admitting it. I wouldn’t be where I am without them. The original spark for this book came from a popular astronomy text, where the author posited that there might well be a life-zone somewhere in the upper atmosphere of even a gas-giant – where a breathable atmosphere, with livable temperature and pressure might exist. He went on to say that while life could exist there, it was unlikely to, because it would not evolve there, because of convection currents.
Now ‘can’t do it’ and ‘impossible’ are just code words to Dave to say ‘hold my beer’ while I at least attempt to prove the speaker wrong. Biology being biology, and even more inclined to this than me, I wouldn’t bet on him being wrong anyway. But of course, the obvious answer is ‘why not bio-engineer life to populate the environment?’ So I had the setting for a story: a planet with no habitable land – but a life-zone — a vast but resource poor one… unless of course there were some reason why it wasn’t resource-poor… or at least not all that resource-poor. I mean there is life and indeed, humans (in low densities) in some very unlikely and bleak resource poor deserts. Provide carbon (as in carbon dioxide) moisture, and a little bit of dust, some plants can survive (I can kill air-plants, but I have plant-killing talents).
My background in Ichthyology also made the entire concept of huge amounts of daily vertical migration of relatively tiny organisms quite a familiar concept. Yes, there are inevitably huge mortalities in such plants and animals. As long as they breed and grow faster than they die, eventually they’ll populate any life-zone. And life adapts remarkably well to uncertain conditions, and evolves to make things less uncertain. And what’s the point in being a writer of fiction if you don’t make fortuitous conditions intersect? I posited that my planet was in fact a puff-planet, with huge amounts of dust and ash flung high up into the atmosphere from its hot volcanic core.
I had a world to write about: but not one that even the pushiest of deep-space realtors would have described ‘a desirable location’ and ‘lots of room for the spawnlings to run about in.’ OK, so maybe I under-rate the capacity of realtors, but really not acres of land to tempt most would-be settlers… What would you do with a place no one really wants?
Well, it strength then becomes the very fact that it is territory no one wants. Some of my ancestors were quite careful to try and find places like that. Inevitably they improved them, and then someone else did want them… but in this case I had the world as the neutral meeting spot between two empires of aliens who hated each other (with good reason, but that’s another book). The aliens set up an large four square miles of anti-gravity plate with their respective trading houses on the furthest edges. When all-out war came one little (if rich) trading post was not a worthwhile target as each pursued genocidal war against the other. The distant descendants of the traders still lived there, their hatred for each other undiminished, but peace – at least on the trading plate, was maintained by mutually assured destruction.
But while aliens are very interesting, we like humans and human values and motivations to read about. Now, when I was started thinking about this book – it’s been fermenting a while – we were busy starting the emigration process, and, being the sort of guy I am I was reading the history of Australia, and trying to grasp the local vernacular… convicts. transportation. And a dialect quite unique to a nation that was finding its own identity and trying to build that, just as US did. I was delighted by it, and very disappointed to discover it was being globalized out of existence in the large East-coast cities of Australia, which are slavish in their imitation of North-East-coast cities in the US IMO (identical particularly in their disdain for the US). I’m something of a believer in the pendulum nature of history, and think globalization will soon be as popular as roast pork at a Muslim feast… so it may come back. There is still quite a lot it in rural Australia, and a lot of independence and vast dislike of authority. There are just a lot more people living in the large cities. But I thought: what the hell, I’d assume history would if not repeat, at least rhyme.
So: I crash-landed a convict-transport of Australian onto the trading plate…
Unlike Jack Vance (The Blue World, which starts with a similar premise – shoulders of giants…) I did not assume that in a crowded environment – basically one densely packed city – that the convicts and their offspring would evolve into fine, upstanding people. That, even in early days of Australia, only really happened once they were out from under governance, away in the interior, where independence and self-sufficiency counted. The people of the Big Syd never got out from under. The aliens stepped in and became the equivalent of the British military with the prisoners stuck in the small area this side of Blue Mountains (reality for some time here) or the prisons of Van Dieman’s land.
Gangs, drugs, gambling, prostitution, squalor and vast wealth in four densely packed square miles of shanty-town, in millions of miles of nothing but clouds.
And into this I toss my hero. A future peace-corps type volunteer, full of puppy-like eagerness to help these poor downtrodden and entirely misunderstood people, chock-full of idealism and even fuller of college sociology and anthropology, fresh out of a wealthy comfortable society, that feels faintly guilty about their ‘privilege’ and the Big Syd’s poverty.
He’s in for a rough ride.
And so are they.
I hope some of you will try it. I’ve been told it is great escapism, and very funny in places (that may have been my spelling. It’s laugh or cry.). It is my most out-of-the-closet libertarian novel, I think.