Thursday, June 21, 2007


The Day's Progress

I hit the quota today, but just barely. Got my head knocked out of the game for a little while wrestling with a bit of nonsense concerning a long-running legal battle, but got it back together again by the end of the day. Then spent a little time figuring out what I'm going to be reading at ApolloCon this weekend (which reminds me that I should probably mention that I'm going to be at ApolloCon this weekend, shouldn't I?), which brings us to now.

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
20,149 / 90,000

There was a lot of hard sf hoohah in today's writing, stuff I hadn't anticipated going over but which I realized, when I got there, had to be explained. Stuff like how the moonbase in Phobos is laid out, what sort of security procedures the base employs, and so forth. Not so much because I'm going to be using it a lot further down the line, but because it's important to set up a contrast with the Aztec base that the characters will be infiltrating later in the story.

This sample is another bit of business I didn't expect to bring front and center here, the comparative political structures of the Chinese and Aztec empires. When I first tapped the Aztecs as the black hats in this alternate history (or at least as the Chinese's opposite numbers) I'd just sort of figured them for an authoritarian, maybe even fascistic culture, one that frequently sacrificed prisoners to the gods. What I realized, in researching it, was that the Aztecs were an almost entirely egalitarian society, one in which anyone from any background could rise through the ranks and attain the highest levels of power (so long as they didn't mind getting their hands a bit dirty). Advancement was determined by military prowess, capturing prisoners (even in actual wartime or in mock combat with neighboring cities), and their leaders were essentially elected and could be removed from power by the will of the people. A contrast to the Chinese, whose leaders had divine mandates from the gods, literal "sons of heaven." So aside from the whole bathed-in-blood-sacrifice business, the Aztecs were almost a republic, while the Chinese were ruled by an absolute hereditary dictator. Kind of changed my feelings about the two sides, and suggested some interesting conflicts.

Anywhere, here's that in a nutshell, talking about ornamentation and fashion design.
The lithographs which Zhuan had been shown in Fanchuan Garrison did not do the vessel justice. There was a certain brutality inherent in all Mexic designs, doubtless carried over from their cultural ethos, which demanded a never-ending series of sacrifices to their dark gods, a veritable river of blood that flowed beneath and around everything the Mexica had ever accomplished, and the newly rechristened Dragon was certainly no exception. Unlike the ships of the Middle Kingdom, with their baroque flourishes and careful artistry, so often designed to look like the fish of the seas or the birds of the air or more fanciful creatures only ever glimpsed in children’s tales, accented with vibrant flourishes of color, the vessels of the Mexic Dominion were stark, utilitarian, and gray.

This was an ironic contrast to the armor worn by the soldiers of the two cultures, that of the Middle Kingdom being relatively plain and unadorned, and that of the Mexic Dominion fashioned to resemble wild animals and demons and stranger creatures. Perhaps it was emblematic of the fact that, for all of its brutality, the Mexic Dominion was an egalitarian society, a meritocracy in which one rose to power and prominence on the basis of martial ability—specifically measured by the number of live prisoners one captured in combat—while the Middle Kingdom, though it measured the merits of its bureaucrats by scholastic examination, was a culture led by a hereditary ruler, whose authority flowed down through his forebears’ bloodlines by grace of heaven itself. As a result, the Mexic Dominion could be seen to place more emphasis on the individual, and the Middle Kingdom on the collective culture, and each devoted its attentions in adorning those aspects it prized most highly.

The Dragon wasn’t much larger than a cloud-flyer shuttle, about the size of the launch vessel that had carried the line from the surface, at least once the first stage and reusable fuel tanks had fallen away. The Exhortation, which Zhuan had commanded for so many years, had been a small patrol vessel, with a full complement of no more than a dozen crewmen, and yet it looked as if the Dragon would nearly fit entirely into its cargo holds.

And this was the vessel that would carry the nine of them out into the black void, to the hidden Mexic base, a journey of weeks?

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