The background behind the futuristic worlds you’ll find in
The Verona Trilogy
Most futuristic novels don’t give you the back story of their civilizations. They just plop the reader into the middle of the characters’ lives and start the story rolling. The writer lets readers infer much of how the civilization works from what happens around the characters. I do pretty much the same thing. After all, it’s the characters and the story that is important, and the quality of its telling. But behind the scenes, writers of future fiction have to work out a general history for their world to rationalize why things are the way they are. But, I thought, why not share the back story? Some readers might find it interesting. That’s what follows here.
The Verona Trilogy takes place in three time periods; the 24th and 31st-centuries, when the characters are in the future, and 14th-century Verona, Italy, when they are in the past.
While writing the first book of the trilogy, The Lens and the Looker, I spent months researching 14th-century Verona, and even went to modern Verona, spending days taking in the many sights. What a difference that made to my vision of the tale’s telling. Many of the buildings, streets and churches have been maintained much as they were in the past, so I felt I was wandering in and seeing the same things my characters did. I wanted details to be as realistic as they could and, for me, it’s the details in the research that feed and inspire my writer’s imagination.
Writing about the future also took lots of research, contemplation and then creative speculation. The research had to do with subjects that are very dear to me; ecology, green politics, population studies and futurism in general. All through my contemplation and speculation, I had one mantra: what hard decisions did my characters’ ancestors have to make to ensure the existence of human civilization for another ten thousand years? This would inform me what the world my characters inhabited looked like.
Because of space constraints, I am only including the Back Story of my future worlds.
It is my hope that, after reading what follows, you may wish to reread the series. If you do, you may see many more layers to the story.
Kingston, Ontario, Canada
The Lens and the Looker starts in 2347, the 24th-century A.C.E. (After the Common Era). At that time, I have the population of the Earth at 300,000,000, or 300 million. Compare that with the population of humans alive as of this writing, November 2012. The population of “Spaceship Earth” has exceeded 7,000,000,000. That’s seven billion or seven-thousand million, depending on what side of the Atlantic “pond” you’re on.
I work into my fictional tale that the future population of 300 million is not just a number that happened by accident. It was a deliberate figure chosen by a planetary Council of Elders. Before I explain how I came to decide on that number, I think a short preamble comparing the population in my story to the actual number of humans in our present world could be interesting and informative. After all, there’s a big difference in those quantities, and if you are anything like me, it’s hard to conceive of and compare numbers that high. All I see is a heck of a lot of zeros and I think it’s really important that we feel these numbers in our guts.
First, let’s compare by just writing them out.
Three-hundred million or 300,000,000
Seven billion or 7,000,000,000
This doesn’t really illuminate the difference in size for me.
How about doing it as a percentage?
300 million is only about 4.5% of 7 billion. That means, for every 100 people alive today, only 4 or 5 people are alive in the History Camp world of 2347. Still not making very much of an impression?
How about drawing a mental picture this way . . .
If you take a package of common computer paper and agree that the thickness of one page is equal to one person, then stack up 300 million sheets, that pile of paper would be 100,000 feet high or over 18.9 miles. (30,400 metres or 30.4 km). Wow, that’s high, you say. (*I’m calculating an average computer paper at about 250 pages per inch or almost 1,000 sheets per 100 cm)
But what about the population of today, the planet we all live on, right now? If you piled one piece of paper on top of another for every human alive now, the pile you would get would be over 2,300,000 feet or an amazing 550 miles high. (701,040 meters or over 700 KM) The space shuttles orbited at less than half that altitude. Getting the picture?
Here’s another thought that stretches my mind, not only with population numbers but also regarding time. Until as little as 10,000 years ago it is estimated that the natural population for humans planet-wide was only 1,000,000, when we lived as hunter gatherers. That’s only one million. That puny paper stack would only be 333 feet high (101.5 meters), about the height of a 30 storey building. The space shuttle was higher than that standing on its launch pad. Ten millennium ago was also the time when humans invented rudimentary farming, and that’s when populations started to grow.
Why 300,000,000 was chosen as a sustainable population number:
As mentioned above, I envisioned a planetary Council of Elders determining a target number of humans that could be sustained by the ecosystem of the planet for an indefinite number of millenia. I had them choose 300,000,000. I envisaged this happening in the last years of the 21st-century, with them choosing the early 24th-century as the target time for reaching the much lowered population goal. This is the time when the first book in the series, The Lens and the Looker, starts.
The impetus for the drastic lowering in numbers of people lay in the many cataclysmic events I envisioned happening in the latter half of the 21st-century; the rising of the oceans, droughts that starved millions, bacterial infections that wiped out billions and wars that caused diasporas of whole populations. Refugees, like hordes of locusts, limped from continent to continent, consuming, killing and dying. Wow, this short description brings to mind many of the great dystopian novels written since the early decades of the 20th-century. That’s after World War One when there were initial glimpses of the possibility of world domination by one ideology or another. Then, after the first atomic bombs were dropped at the end of World War Two, visionaries started writing cautionary tales about humans now possessing the ability to really destroy the planet. Dystopian literature was born!
However, in the world which I created for The Verona Trilogy, I have the humans of the 24th-century already past these hard times and successfully rebuilding the world. I figured there’s already enough dystopian literature out there. I’m calling my genre “post-dystopian”. You see, this time, humans have retained enough knowledge and wisdom to not to repeat the mistakes of the past. There was no burning of the libraries of Alexandria, the world didn’t fall into religious fundamentalism or create a fascist state. In this world, humans rise from the ashes and prosper. Why and how this happens is described under several of the headings that follow, but let me mention a few of the “norms” that I have imbedded in the psyches of my characters, even when they’re spoiled kids.
1) It was recognized that for humans to survive, we must allow other species to thrive. It became a common currency of thought that there is a complex underpinning to nature, a balanced and complex web of life, in which millions of various life forms and processes support and sustain each other. For this multitude of other species to survive, humans must share planetary resources. To share planetary resources, our numbers must be lowered. The people of the future I’ve imagined recognize that the world their ancestors (us) lived in was literally a house of cards, one where, if too many cards were removed, the whole structure would collapse.
2) It was accepted that humankind had outstripped its biology, that is, nature could no longer keep population numbers in check. For millions of years, before we developed agriculture and medicine, a very high reproduction rate was needed for a species to survive. As I mentioned earlier, it is estimated that, as little as 10,000 years ago, there were about 1,000,000 homo sapiens on the planet. That’s when humans invented agricultural skills. Because of this, and because of other unique, adaptive qualities of our human brain, infant mortality rate steadily decreased and the average human lifespan increased. Within the blink of a galactic eye, ten-thousand years, the population of our specie’s shot up to where it is as of this writing, over seven billion. That’s where my imagination fast-forwards to sometime in the late 21st-century when humans finally collectively decide that, since nature can no longer control population size, if we want to survive, it will be our responsibility to control it ourselves.
3) Besides agriculture and medicine, it was recognized that every invention humans created allowed its population to grow. I include in the definition of “invention”, not just technology, but also human organizations: governments, businesses, corporations, economic systems, traditional and non-traditional families, etc. In the world-building of The Verona Trilogy, it became another ingrained concept that, throughout history, and to ill effect, both technology and societal systems were progressively tweaked by the people in power to concentrate control over resources and the way people thought into fewer and fewer hands.
Some logical future thinker then determined the following: the whole of human society must turn this thinking on its head. Humankind must burn into the front of its consciousness that the purpose of inventions must be to allow populations to remain low while helping to keep the individual’s quality of life high. This would not only allow the demands humans make on the planet to remain small, but also allow them to expand the ability to express themselves creatively or to just live in peace. (How they achieved this is described in the section called “Artificial Intelligences, A.I.s.”)
None of these ideas are expressed explicitly in the narrative of my story. After all, it is supposed to be an exciting action story. However, this is an example of all the machinations a writer has to go through when world-building a future society.
“All right already, Lory,” you’re saying. “Get to the part where you tell us why you had your Council of Elders pick 300 million as the number of people that should be on the planet.” Okay. Fair enough. Here’s how I came to that very specific number . . . I made it up.
The 300 million figure in some ways seems high in relation to historical human numbers on the planet (as compared to the one million figure for 100,000 years before agriculture), and low compared to historical human memory, (seven billion in only 10,000 years and growing . . . and growing). However, suffice it to say that the fictitious late 21st-century elders considered that if humans could use technology to keep quality of life high, but also have as the criteria for technology that it must be designed to make a small footprint on the Earth’s ecology, then a much higher number of humans could survive. The reality is that, the number could be five hundred million or it could be two hundred million, two million, five or ten million. I suppose it would all be dependent on the technology at the time. And after all, this is just fiction. But hey, I’d love to hear what readers think our human numbers should be – and why.
Artificial Intelligences (A.I.):
Some readers have asked, “Why did you give every human on the planet a companion artificial intelligence from birth?”
For me, the A.I.’s are a symbol of the fact that humans seem not to be able to work together without some faction undermining things. “What does this have to do with artificial intelligences?” you ask. Well, as I already mentioned, by the end of the 21st-century I have humans on the brink of extinction. Plagues and bacterial infections are threatening calamity and some population centers are already collapsing. But, at the same time, human technology is also successfully creating synthetic intellects, superior to humans in many ways. (Given where we are with computer technology now, I don’t think this is out of the realm of possibility.)
So, as opposed to some dystopian literature, where A.I.s rebel against humans, I have chosen another road. In The Verona Trilogy, artificial intelligences become the saviors of humans, though not as benignly as one might think.
I’ve done it like this. Each person’s A.I. is with them from before birth. At first the A.I. acts as nanny to the baby and toddler, and a helper to the parents. Then the artificial intelligence takes on the role of tutor when the person becomes a youth, then an adolescent, watching out for that individual and monitoring his or her progress. This role changes as the human grows into adulthood. Like a loving aunt or uncle today, the A.I. changes into a life-long friend and confidant. By constant and gentle vigilance, A.I.s allow humans to find their own path in life, as long as their actions don’t put at risk the long-term safety of society or that of the other life forms on the planet.
So, humans have ceded ultimate control to their A.I.s, which have become both the “philosopher kings” and the “protector class” of humankind. They are a benevolent police force, making sure that small factions of people can’t sabotage society’s long-term survival for personal or tribal purposes, which, when I think of it, seems to be among the most repeated themes in human history.
Another very important fact to understand is that the A.I.s do very little of the actual work for humans. It’s not like “The Jetsons” or like some cheesy science fiction movie where people walk around in identical plastic suits and use mass-produced, computer-made products. In the world where History Camps exist, individual craftsmanship and self-sufficiency is the new way of things and the norm. Clothing is made by individuals and small, local shops, not by large corporations. The purpose for A.I.s is not to provide for humans, but to protect, love and nourish them — and the protection is mostly from ourselves and our own natures.
After finishing the first drafts of The Lens and the Looker, I realized mine was not such a new idea in science fiction. While watching a rerun of the 1951 movie The Day the Earth Stood Still, I saw how the race of aliens, represented by the character “Platu”, had recognized their inability to control themselves as a culture and given control of their long-term wellbeing to a race of “robots”, such as the one in the movie named “Gort”. I can’t honestly say whether I reinvented the idea or subconsciously adopted (stole) the concept from watching the movie as a child. I suspect the latter, but it really doesn’t matter. Orson Scott Card does a similar thing in his new series Pathfinder, Robert J. Sawyer in his W.W.W. series, but both in very different ways.
As humans, we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves for being aggressive and individually greedy. Any creature that had to fight its way out of the primeval ooze and survive by consuming others and protecting its offspring by destroying and consuming the family units of other creatures over billions of years cannot be expected to change its instincts quickly, if ever. Was it a mistake of nature to give us an intelligence that would cause us to outstrip our biology and not be regulated by the immediate environment? Was it a divine plan (or joke on the creator’s part) to give humans the ability to destroy ourselves and much of the planet’s life forms much more quickly than the evolutionary forces that usually bring down a species? At this point, we can’t know. (Hey, that just gave me an idea for another story.)
One last thing on this topic. I have in my little brain the idea that, in some future story, I’m going to show that in the thirty-first century, humans are gaining the ability to control themselves and thus the one-to-one necessity of A.I.s to humans is being lowered. I don’t know if I’ll do that because people have changed culturally or because they’ll have actually have bred out of themselves this need to dominate others to an extreme. We shall see.
At the beginning of The Lens and the Looker, humans in the 24th-century can’t time travel. They can in the 31st-century and a History Camp counselor from that future, Arimus, comes back and kidnaps three spoiled hard cases: Hansum, Shamira and Lincoln. He takes them back to a time when there is no social safety net and he abandons them. That’s when the fun and adventure starts.
So, as a writer whose stories depend on time travel, do I actually believe it’s possible? Not in the way it’s used by me or most speculative fiction authors. Am I suggesting that in the foreseeable future it’s possible? I used to believe it, but now I’m not sure. It’s impossible to be certain about things like that.
Then why do I use time travel? Well, it’s a great literary device that allows characters from different times to be thrown into the same arena of life to compare notes and knock heads – and the more outrageous the situation the better. You see, for me the art of writing (and the fun) is to make the impossible seem real and truly plausible; to craft words in a way that the reader will want to suspend disbelief. Also, time travel works especially well for me since my interest in doing these stories is to be part of a discussion about what type of world the human race will plan for the future. Time travel allows me to compare the past, as well as the future, and then I hope some readers will want to live the changes they want to see happen in the world. Hey, like Arimus said, “. . . what’s life mean, without an impossible dream?”
One last thought about time travel and the one thing I am certain about. We shouldn’t hold our breath about it coming soon enough to help fix and save the world. The older I get, the more obvious it becomes that we’re on our own for that.
The Steady-State Economy:
This is a bit of a catch-all section. Because of space constraints, I have included a few brief thoughts that could each have their own sections. I’m hoping these thoughts will be expanded in a longer version of a “Back Story” to my books, or on my website, in the future.
In the 24th-century of The Verona Trilogy, I created something called a steady-state economy. In our present economic system there must be continual growth and expansion, which leads to the continual consumption of natural resources and, as a repercussion, the continual growth of populations. At the present time we cannot have one without the other.
In the steady-state economy of my future world, I envisage scientists having determined (and the A.I.s confirming unbiasedly) the amount of calories of energy that would be safe for three hundred million people to extract from the planet without interfering with the delicate and very long-term* balance of nature. (remember, 10,000* years)
These units of energy are then converted into “money” (like gold and silver was used as a standard in the past) and divided among the population as a guaranteed income.
I retain “money” in this future because I see it as probably the greatest of human inventions. It has allowed humans to engage in complex bartering and include knowledge and service to be part of economies. So, where do the phrase, “Money is the root of all evil,” and other related clichés come from? While money has the potential to distribute the wealth of a community in some kind of equitable fashion, it also has the potential to centralize power into fewer and fewer hands over time. That’s where our world is at now.
However, in my future world, after individuals use what resources they need for food, clothing, shelter, transportation and their other general needs, they can invest the rest of their share of the world’s bounty with people who have the talent and ambition to create technologies, goods and services that other people want. If these technologies are innovative and use smaller amounts of resources than previously, then the surplus energy (which is money) is their profit, allowing them to have more latitude to be more creative and innovative.
So, this is not a nanny state. It has recognized that it is vital to allow people to have outlets for their creative energies and ambitions, whatever they are, (business, entrepreneurial, technological, artistic) But it has also recognized that the natural world is finite and the rest of the ecosystem of the planet has to be taken into account on society’s balance sheet. This is one line the ultra-ambitious can’t overstep. That’s where the A.I.s come in.
Finally, I did an online search on a phrase I thought I invented, “steady-state economy”. What popped up was a group of professors, economists and environmentalists who have already organized an association on this topic. So, it’s started. We shall see where it goes. Look it up if you want. It’s called Centre for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy, or CASSE. http://steadystate.org
Elders as opposed to super consumers:
There’s a clichéd phrase in our culture, “Those with the most toys when they die, win.” Of course, the originator of the phrase is definitely saying this ironically, but so many people in our world live like this. As a baby boomer, I was part of the Yuppie (Young, Upwardly-mobile Professional) generation in the 1970’s and 80s. As boomers age, we all now aspire to be Woopies. (Well Off Old People).
But seriously, so many people today have lost hope in the future, or more dishearteningly, they don’t even know we’re supposed to be having a discussion about it. In my 24th-century future, as opposed to wanting to be rich and decadent, people aspire to be elders. These are experienced leaders in the community who accept the responsibility and are given the authority to keep society strong and steady. After all, who wouldn’t want to be an elder when along with that role comes the respect and admiration for helping keep the world in a shape that will allow humans to continue existing on planet Earth for thousands of years?
Education in the future:
As everyone has a guaranteed income in the future I envisage, schools are no longer factories to train industry’s workers at society’s cost. Everyone receives a classical education, including sciences, maths, technology basics, history, arts, crafts, food production, etc. As people get older, the ambitious ones will specialize in their interests. And, as mentioned a bit earlier, regional craftsmanship reemerges for clothing, household goods, building, food, etc. Most people will be happy to lead healthy lives, able to express themselves through their talents, raise their children and be part of a community. Progress is measured very differently in this world.
Why the planet’s average community has sixty people:
One of the fun things I have happening in this future world is people living in small communities of 30 to 60 people. Anthropologists have determined that this was the size of the majority of human settlements up to around 10,000 BCE. It’s a natural number then, one that allows survival of a group. It gives enough variety of personalities and talents to fulfill the group’s needs: hunters, gatherers, artisans, men, women, leaders and followers. I envisioned a good portion of people in the future choosing to go back to living in these smaller communities. However, in my future model of modernity, because we’ve been able to retain a very high level of technology, people don’t live lives of subsistence. They don’t live lives of opulence either, but ones in which they are comfortable, produce most of their own food, and are able to communicate with and contribute to the rest of the world. This goes hand in hand with the steady-state economy, where growth is not necessary or seen to be good. Progress is now the development of ideas and the ability to continually do more with less.
Why New York City in the 24th-century only has thirty thousand people in it, and why it isn’t on Manhattan Island anymore?
Large cities were necessary, in part, so people could be safe from “others”; other tribes, then other city states, and then other civilizations. As they grew, their leaders harnessed the populations in different ways to grow further. Cities were also the engines of economic growth and growth was seen as desirable. They centralized resources and production, allowing surpluses, which eventually became known as profit. And the natural world? Up until recently, it was treated as an inexhaustible storehouse of materials, just waiting for humans to put it to good use. In the new economy of the early 24th-century, where the physical size of a city doesn’t matter and the planetary population has diminished to a thirtieth of that of early 21st century Earth, cities were no longer necessary or desirable.
I gave New York City the arbitrary size of 30,000. That was to show that what we now think of a small city in the early 21st century could once again be seen as a large center. But it’s a large center not for industry or commerce, but for culture and education. It also acts as a meeting place, when online conferencing just won’t do. Even in the future, some things are best done face to face.
I have Manhattan Island underwater. Why? With our glaciers and icepacks melting and our planet going into a warming cycle, (arguably sooner than it would have because of humans burning fossil fuels) the oceans are rising. In this future world, the coastlines of the continents have changed again, just like they’ve always done over long stretches of time. I thought it would be engaging to show one of the liveliest cities of our civilization now resting with the ancient ports of Alexandria under water.
It could be interesting to note here that, at the height of the last ice age, about 18,000 years ago, ice sheets many miles thick extended south of Seattle, Washington, Chicago, Illinois and even New York City in North America. In Europe and Asia, ice sheets covered all of Greenland, most of Great Britain and the Irelands, all the Scandinavian countries, the northern part of Germany, Poland, Belarus, and much of what is now northwest Russia. Because so much of the world’s water was locked in the ice, sea levels were as much as 400 feet lower than they are today. So, the world as we know it is not as permanent and perpetual as most people in our modern cultures think. If we are to survive, we must understand the cycles of our environment.
Why I chose the Haudenosaunee, or the Iroquois Confederation, as a positive 24th century example in The Loved and the Lost:
When constructing a world for The Verona Trilogy, I wanted to show that a future civilization in harmony with the planet doesn’t necessarily have to be monolithic, or a single type of culture. There is variety, experimentation and growth, although the philosophy and laws for society’s long term survival still prevail. So, while you’ll find people who live in micro-communities of around sixty and in cities in the low thousands, you also will find regions like Haudenosaunee.
I chose this society because I was so impressed when I studied how it had been organized. Anthropology and oral histories are at odds about when the League of Six Nations, or The Iroquois Confederation was formed, somewhere between the mid 12th and 15th century. But what is not in dispute is that there did exist an advanced, egalitarian democracy, where individual and group rights were balanced and heavily entrenched in the culture. Five and then six native nations, including the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, the Seneca nations and, then in 1722, the Tuscarora, banded together under the vision of a man named Deganawida. He was known as the Great Peace Maker, a Christ or Buddha-like figure who convinced warring tribes to come together in peace. The region of what is now New York State, Ohio and the Saint Lawrence Valley of Southern Ontario and Quebec held millions of this native population. Although still a culture that had not progressed far technologically, it transformed millions of acres of land into a sophisticated balance of field crops, hunting grounds and areas of trees selected for food and housing materials. It also developed trade routes and built large settlements of long houses.
But what I wanted to showcase was the political system. It was one where the leaders followed their populations, where the clan mothers picked the leaders, and everyone contributed to the general welfare of the group. Individuals in this culture had a measure of personal freedom that caused many of the newly-arrived, indentured European settlers to run away from their masters and join the natives. It is said that the American constitution was partly inspired by the Haudenosaunee civilization, although the Founding Fathers didn’t quite get it right with their highly centralized government.
I won’t speak much about History Camps here, because I think their operations are pretty well described within the stories. The one example I use in the Verona Trilogy is “History Camp, Verona 1347”. It’s a very close approximation of Verona in medieval times.
What I do want to enlarge upon here is that, with a steady state economy, people could dedicate their whole careers to building places like this. With no corporate, short-term profit motive, many men and women could find it challenging and interesting to recreate the skills of masons, carpenters, weavers, millers, butchers and the other hundreds of other trades in other times, keeping alive these skills of the various ages. And because they would have to interact with young people who came, not as visitors, but to “live” the lives of young people from the past, everyone working in History Camps would also require the skills to work effectively with their charges. It would be incumbent upon them to help instill in each young person the benefits of modernity by showing them what humans had to endure in the past.
Although it’s not stated anywhere in the Verona Trilogy, my future books will reveal that there are more than fifty History Camps around the 24th-century planet, reflecting many major cultures from every epoch in time.
The Mists of Time Machine
One of my inspirations for writing this series was the old saying, “Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it,” and time travel was a way that I could have my characters see and experience many historical events. However, when I came up with the idea that people would naturally send cameras back in time to watch past events as well, it was a short leap to having whole populations watch them. It would be like us watching video programs on a television or computer screen. Along with History Camps, Mists of Times programs became a way of reinforcing the future population’s understanding of history and helping them avoid the mistakes of the past. Of course, I imagined a three-dimensional holographic projection and that’s just a lot of fun. But wouldn’t it be amazing if something like this could someday be real?
Why some people in the future speak in verse:
I’m told that English is the language of business, French of diplomacy and Italian of love. The point being, speaking and thinking a particular languages produces a bias in the way we understand the world.
I have some people from the future speaking in verse to show how, in a world where there is a steady-state way of life, although progress happens, it’s not at the expense of everything that makes life worth living. People’s greatest concerns are about quality of life, philosophy, family, love, self-awareness and self-improvement. My intention in having someone from the far future speaking in verse is then to show that it’s ideas and emotions, the more esoteric things that life, that are important to them.
As well, writing the Arimus character in verse was an enjoyable challenge. I’m thinking that in the next series an elder from the future will speak in blank verse instead of rhyme. I actually planned to have Arimus speak in blank verse, but for some reason he didn’t want to. As much as I tried, his speech insisted on coming out as rhyming couplets for the most part. Hey, I’m only the writer and must do what the muse demands.
More stories from different eras are coming down the pipe in the future. In the meantime, now that you’ve read this BACK STORY, you may wish to reread The Verona Trilogy in full or part. You may see things differently, now that you understand a bit more of the world the characters inhabit.
Next in the series is a book that is tentatively entitled Between Two Rivers. It is an adventure that involves a boy, Tammond, from the 24th century A.C.E. (After the Common Era) and a girl, Enheduanna, (Yuanna) born almost 5,000 years earlier in the 24th century B.C.E. (Before the Common Era) The girl’s father is King Sargon the Great, the first man who rule what could be call an empire. And the mother of the girl? She is a time traveler from the 31st-century A.C.E. Talk about dual citizenship. Tammond and Yuanna find they have more in common than ties to the future. And who knows. You may even see some of your favorite characters from previous stories making an appearance.