Saturday, April 30, 2011

Worldbuilding A to Z: Z is for... Ze End!

This is Ze End. My only friend, Ze End. (I apologize, really. But I couldn't think of anything appropriate for the letter Z.)

It's been an interesting month mapping out the different aspects of the worldbuilding I've done. During that time I've been focusing on my fantasy realm of Akhet. It is the country in which my current WIP takes place. But it is only a small part of the world in which it exists. Though I have only done in depth worldbuilding on Akhet at this point. In my mind I have planned a rather large world full of different lands and different peoples. All of those lands and peoples will make appearances in my stories over time.

The river Iteru flows from the northern highlands into a large inland sea. To the northeast of Iteru, past the desert regions, there is a huge range of mountains. And past that mountain range is a land where the sun does not reach and the people live in perpetual twilight. It is the land that the people of Akhet left in order to search for a better home. My next story will take place there and have heavy Celtic influences.

To the south, across the sea, I have ideas (only vague at this point) of a realm inspired by Greek mythology. And somewhere in the center of the sea will be a large island and one day I will write my own version of the Atlantis legend. taking my cue directly from Plato.

So while this is Ze End of the Challenge, it is far from Ze End of my adventures in worldbuilding. And I will continue to talk about it here from time to time. (Though never again for a whole month straight!) I hope you've enjoyed learning about Egypt and Akhet with me. I've enjoyed all of your comments. It's been a great experience!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Worldbuilding A to Z: Y is for Year

An Egyptian Calendar

The passage of time and its measurement.

No surprise here, I'm modeling the measurement of time in Akhet on that of Ancient Egypt. The Egyptians were quite advanced in this area. They had a year of 365 days. It was comprised of 12 months of 30 days each. That sounds pretty familiar, but it only nets 360 days. Which is why the Egyptians tacked on an additional 5 days at the end of the year. They were 5 days of feasting and celebration in honor of the gods Osiris, Isis, Seth, Nephthys and Horus. Thus we get a total of 365 days. However, the Egyptians did not have an equivalent of leap year and each year was about a quarter of a day short leading to stellar events that "wandered" through the calendar. Thus it is sometimes called the "wandering year".

Each month was divided into 3 weeks of 10 days. Days were comprised of 24 hours, 12 hours of day and 12 hours of night. But the Egyptians based their hours on observations of the movement of the sun. From sunrise to sunset was 12 hours and from sunset to sunrise was 12 hours, equally divided. Thus the length of the hours would change during different times of the year. For instance, during the summer solstice the day time hours would be longer and the night time hours would be shorter.

The Egyptian year started with the heliacal rising of the star Sirius, or Sopdet, just before the summer solstice. The months were divided between three seasons and the first season began on the summer solstice. The season of Akhet (or Inundation) lasted from June 21st to October 21st. This was when the annual flooding of the Nile occurred and while farming was impossible people were employed on building projects. The season of Peret (Growth or Emergence) from October 21st to February 21st followed the receding of the Nile waters. During this season the newly silt enriched land was farmed. Last was the season of Shomu (Harvest) from February 21st until June 21st. During this time the crops planted during Peret would be collected in an interesting contrast with the rest of the world which started their planting at this time.

How does it work in your fantasy world? Is it the same as our earth? Or did you invent your own seasons to make your world unique?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Worldbuilding A to Z: X is for eXistence

Worldbuilders are sub-creators of secondary worlds and thus authors of existence. But it is not enough for us to say, "And lo, I set pen to paper and said 'let there be a country based on Ancient Egypt here.' And it was so and I saw that it was good." No, because while we might be the origin of our creation we should not be seen within our creation. As writers, we must remain outside. To support what Tolkien called "secondary belief" (which is different from suspension of disbelief) our world cannot come from nothing. Therefore there must be a natural, internal source of existence for our creation. We must write its origin story.

This is something that I have always struggled with in my worldbuilding. You see, it forces me to answer the question: Where does existence come from? Stop and think about that question for a minute. It's a very deeply philosophical issue and one that most people don't think about nowadays. Most people rely on science for their knowledge. Science might be able to tell us about the origin of physical matter, something that can be observed, but science cannot answer the question of where existence its self comes from. This is what worldbuilders must work out for their own worlds.

Unless you're writing a story that actually takes place at the beginning of time, does this really matter? Yes. The origin of the world has more impact on a fantasy story than you might realize. It determines the rules of the universe and thus the rules that affect your characters' day to day actions. Particularly in a world that has many gods and goddesses and supernatural beings this is important. You need to know where something comes from to know where it is going.

For myself, this is an aspect of my worldbuilding I am still pondering and working out. Currently I am struggling to come up with some relatively unique take on the familiar "creator god" motif which is found in many incarnations throughout world mythology.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Worldbuilding A to Z: Values and Warfare

For the life of me I can't seem to manage a post everyday. Sigh. Another double post will have to suffice.

V is for Values

The Weighing of the Heart

I believe a culture is defined by what it values, what it holds sacred. And that is why the culture of Ancient Egypt is so vibrant and fascinating to us. The Egyptians, whom the Greeks called the most pious of peoples, knew what was sacred. This is one of the main aspects of their culture that I have, from the beginning, wanted to imitate in my fictional realm of Akhet.

So what did the Egyptians value? Family and friends. Egyptians believed that you could not be truly alive without relationships with others. If the social part of your self was not active, you might as well be physically dead because spiritually you already were. It was important to have a family unit: father, mother, children. Not only did this help you live in this world, but it helped you continue to live after death. Your family and friends could perpetuate your cult, tending your tomb and keeping your name alive after you were dead.

One lives, if his name is mentioned.
One lives, if another guides him.

Egyptians valued the concepts embodied in Maat: truth, balance, order, law, morality, and justice. They were called to live blameless lives because upon their deaths their heart would be weighed against the feather of Maat. If they were found worthy they could then journey to the Field of Reeds, if they were found wanting they would be eaten by the beast Ammit, "the gobbler", thus dying a second time, permanently. To avoid this fate, the deceased would have to make 42 Confessions that state they have done no wrong during life.

The people of Ahket will have similar values. My four MCs are orphans who have no family and thus their social self is not actualized in a healthy way. This is why they go on to cause the wrong that they do.

W is for Warfare

Epic fantasy is generally a breeding ground for large scale conflicts, or wars. Think of the centuries long campaign that the Elves perpetuated against the Dark Lord Morgoth in Tolkien's The Silmarillion. (One of my favoritest books ever.) Compared to that the wimpy little war in LOTR seems kind of pathetic. Tolkien manages to do warfare very well. Probably because he experienced it in real life during WWI and later saw his sons go off to WWII. The guy knew about war.

However, after reading several more modern pieces of epic fantasy dealing with war, I've discovered that I don't particularly like to read about it. Perhaps it's because some modern fantasy authors seem to think they're writing a textbook for West Point. Perhaps it's because some authors like to use warfare to go into a lot of grisly details about atrocities people commit upon one another thus highlighting how wretched people are in general.  These things, in my opinion, have no business in epic fantasy.

Warfare has its place, but I don't think it should ever be the main course of the fantasy banquet. That's where Tolkien got it right. There's a lot of war in his tales, but LOTR is still the story of Frodo's quest to destroy the Ring while the war goes on around him. The point of the story isn't the war, because the reader knows that the war can't be won. Only Frodo can destroy Sauron by destroying the Ring. The war against Morgoth in The Silmarillion is similarly hopeless for the Elves and the Men who join them. The reader knows that the war is a folly and it's not really what the story is about. The story is a tragedy about the Oath of Feanor and the very terrible and very glorious events that came from it. Tolkien uses war to great effect, but he knows there has to be more to the story. Because war is an ugly thing, and fantasy is ultimately about finding the good and true and beautiful.

I think that in my stories there will be only very minimal warfare. It's not something I want to write about, let alone revel in. In my WIP there is conflict and there is violence, but no war. Future stories may dip into the art of warfare a bit, but I doubt it will ever be a major aspect of any of my works.

How do you feel about warfare in fantasy? Do you like more or less?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Worldbuilding A to Z: T and U

Here I go again. We're getting near the end of the alphabet so it's time to use convoluted terminology as an excuse to talk about simple concepts under a different letter. Short and sweet today.

T is for Technology

Or what kind of science will the people of Akhet have?  Following the example of Ancient Egypt, the people of Ahket (Akhetians? Haven't decided yet.) will be practical. They are not interested in theoretical science, only what is applicable to their society and religion. Like the Egyptians, they will be knowledgeable in medicine, architecture, agricultural science, ship building and navigation, mathematics and geometry and most importantly astronomy. The oldest known books on Alchemy were written by a Hellenistic Egyptian and he
claimed that the priests had practiced it since ancient times though there is no real evidence of this. I may at some point explore this idea in a future work, but not in my current WIP.

U is for Urban Centers

Also known as cities. The city was a very important social construct in Ancient Egypt. The city of your birth was where you identified as your home, where your loyalty and your heart remained throughout your life. The primary god who was worshiped in your city's temple would be your primary god as well.  Above all, the city of your birth was where you wanted to be buried so that your family could continue to tend your tomb after your death.

Likewise, I am making cities prominent in Akhet's civilization. I am borrowing the Ancient Egyptian names for my cities such as Menfe, Nekhen, and Abdju. The main location of the story will be the city of Iunu named after the Ancient Egyptian city where Re was worshiped, also known as Heliopolis. Iunu in my world will cover a large island and the city its self will revolve around the huge Temple of Re where my main characters carry out their priestly duties.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Ancient Egyptian Quote of the Week: S is for Sinuhe

I've skipped doing my usual Quote of the Week on Fridays because of the challenge, but today I'm not feeling particularly inspired to write a post about the subject I had selected so I'm changing it.

Today S is for The Story of Sinuhe, one of the oldest pieces of literature in existence. Its author is unknown, but the many surviving copies of the story witness to its popularity in Ancient Egypt. The story is a simple one. Sinuhe, whose name means "son of the sycamore", is a "henchman" (or attendant, based on translation) of Prince Sesostris who has accompanied the Prince on a Libyan campaign. A message arrives telling the Prince that his father King Amenemhet I has died and Sinuhe overhears it. Apparently fearful that "there would be strife" and feeling that he has been cursed, Sinuhe flees into Canaan. There Sinuhe becomes the son-in-law of a tribal chief, fights for him and earns himself great prosperity.

I became great thereby, I grew large in my riches, I became abundant in my flocks. Thus God hath done, so as to shew mercy to him whom he had condemned, whom he had made wander to another land. For today is his heart satisfied. A fugitive fled in his season; now the report of me is in the Residence. A laggard lagged because of hunger; now give I bread to my neighbour. A man left his country because of nakedness; but I am clad in white raiment and linen. A man sped for lack of one whom he should send; but I am a plenteous owner of slaves. Beautiful is my house, wide my dwelling-place; the remembrance of me is in the Palace.

But even though Sinuhe has become great and has everything a man could desire, he is not quite content. He longs to return to Egypt

O God, whosoever thou art that didst ordain this flight, show mercy and bring me to the Residence! Peradventure thou wilt grant me to see the place where my heart dwelleth. What matter is greater than that my corpse should be buried in the land wherein I was born? Come to my aid! A happy event has befallen. I have caused God to be merciful. May he do the like again so as to ennoble the end of him whom he had abased, his heart grieving for him whom he had compelled to live abroad. If it so be that today he is merciful, may he hear the prayer of one afar off, may he restore him whom he had stricken to the place whence he took him.

Sinuhe's heart still dwells in the land of his birth and like any true Egyptian the all important thing is for him to be properly buried there. Sinuhe believes that his prosperity is a sign that the gods have granted him mercy and so he prays to be returned to his home in Egypt. His wish is granted. A decree from the King comes inviting Sinuhe to return which he does and lives the rest of his life in the royal favor of the King and Queen.

I could say much more about this story, but I don't want this post to be over long. If you are interested in reading this incredibly ancient tale, you can find a translation of it here.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Worldbuilding A to Z: R is for Religion

Yesterday I talked about politics and today I talk about religion. Are there any more controversial subjects in existence? I doubt it. Probably because there are no two subjects that people care about quite as passionately. Whether you believe in God or not, it is undeniable that religion is an important part of the human experience. It has been with us since the dawn of civilization and it plays a major part in every culture on the planet. Which leads us to the question, how large a role should religion and spirituality play in fantasy?

I confess that I am often very disappointed by portrayals of religion in fantasy. Too often authors resort to using caricatures of organized churches and representing members of such churches as either ignorant or malicious. There is no depth to it, only the author's personal bias. Why is it that some authors have no trouble exploring the magical realms of the imagination but utterly fail to understand the natural human inclination to seek the divine? I don't know. On the other end of the spectrum there is The Lord of the Rings, which for all its breadth of history and culture fails to explore religion at all. As much as I love Tolkien's work, I wish I could know more about what the peoples of Middle-earth believed and valued. Reading The Silmarillion will tell you about Eru, the creator, and the Valar, his servants, but it will not tell you much about the relationship of the Elves, Men, Dwarves and Hobbits of Middle-earth with them. 

As a reader, I long for a work of fantasy that is not afraid to explore religious themes without demonizing religion. This is something I hope to accomplish with my own writing and why I have chosen Ancient Egypt as my inspiration. Most people think of Egyptian religion as a basic pantheistic "god of this, god of that" formula. But, as I've said before, Egyptian philosophy and belief was infinitely more complex and meaningful than that. Egyptian thought was very different than modern thought (for the better in many cases, I think) but it was not primitive or barbaric as modern people like to think. (Modern people love to think that we know better than everyone else who lived a long time ago because we have better technology, but I would venture to suggest that the opposite is actually true for precisely that same reason. Humanity may, on the whole, have more information nowadays but we also, on the whole, think less. Who needs to think when you can Google everything? But I digress.) My goal with my fantasy world and my current WIP is to use Egyptian belief and philosophy (with some Greek philosophy thrown in for good measure) as a foundation for exploring some deeply religious and deeply human themes. 

I know that probably scares some people off. After all, many authors tend to becoming obnoxiously overbearing when they get up on their soapboxes and start putting messages in their characters' mouths. (I'm looking at you, Terry Goodkind.) That's certainly not what I want. I don't want to preach. I don't have a message for you. But I do want my characters to struggle with and explore such questions of life the universe and everything that are, inextricably, tied into religion. I want them to have morals and values that are not only based on what they want, but on what they believe is right and good. I want to write much more than a book about a quest. I want to write a book that deals with universal truths. I think you can only do that if you stop to ask, "Is there something outside of myself that is greater than I am?" And the followup question, "If so, what do I do about it?"

How do you feel about religious themes in the books you read? Does it turn you off? Interest you? Do you like exploring religious themes in your own writing?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Worldbuilding A to Z: P and Q

Because posting topics on the correct day is for the weak! (Just let me keep telling myself that, ok?) Don't miss my other EPIC CATCH UP POST brought to you by the letters M, N and O. Now I'm finally on schedule!

P is for Politics

How do you like the politics in your fantasy? Do you like them as the main course, served with a delicious sauce of intrigue? Do you like them as a side, like a healthy scoop of vegetables? Or maybe sent right back to the kitchen where they belong? No matter how large a part you want Politics to play in your narrative, a fully formed country (even in a fantasy world) can't exist without it. As an author, even if you don't talk about it in the story much, you should be aware of what type of government your country has and how it will affect the characters in your story.

In Akhet I will, of course, be following the Egyptian model of state with the King as its absolute ruler. From the days of Egypt's first ruling dynasty, the idea of a centralized state was central to the Egyptian way of thinking. While there was a system of government workers including advisers and administrators, regional nomarchs (see letter N), and many scribes in service to the government, it all led back to the King. All craftsmen in Egypt were also under the direct authority of the King and one could only obtain their services with royal permission. And it stayed that way for thousands of years.

One reason that this worked was the religious aspect of the Kingship. At times the King was considered to be a god himself, or the son of a god or the god's representative on earth (depending on the time period). The King was also a High Priest and, according to Egyptian belief, "lord of burial". If one turned one's back on the King one could not be buried in a tomb, an all important aspect of the Egyptian religion. Again, everything goes back to the King.

The ruling King during my WIP will certainly feel the weight of that responsibility when some of his priests rebel and cause chaos to descend on Akhet. My King will be served on the side, like a nice helping of mashed potatoes with gravy. But he won't get to take it easy. Oh no, not by a long shot.

Q is for Quintessence

Quintessence, literally "fifth element", also referred to in classical thought as "aether".

The Quintessence, or Aether, is a concept from classical philosophy that I will be employing in my fantasy world as a vehicle for magic. I will be using the Aristotelian conception of Aether which he included as the fifth element along with air, earth, fire and water. According to Aristotle:

1. Aether fills the region of the universe above the terrestrial sphere.

2. It has no qualities like the other elements (it is not cold, hot, wet or dry).

3. It is not subject to changes in substance, quantity or quality though it is subject to change of place.

4. By its nature it moves in circles around the terrestrial sphere. (The movement of the stars is explained by their position altering as the aether moves around the planet.)

5. It is unalterable and incorruptible. While it can push on "ordinary" matter, it cannot be pushed back by that matter.

Taking this fascinating concept, I am adapting it to my fantasy world thus:

1. The Aether will be the material that composes the celestial and underworld realms of the gods.

2. The gods are the gods because they are beings who are capable, unlike the "ordinary" matter of the terrestrial sphere, of touching and altering the Aether and using the Aether to touch and alter "ordinary" matter in undetectable ways. This is the source of their power.

3. Certain human beings will be able to develop the skill of using their ba (see post on the letter B) to do the same. This skill is most often exhibited by priests and other people who have deep understanding of the religious mysteries of the universe. This is their "magic".

This is the grounding for the magic system of my world. I hope you find it as interesting as I do. I think the potential is limitless and I can't wait to explore it through my stories.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Worldbuilding A to Z: M, N and O

EPIC CATCH UP POST! (I apologize for the length.)

Just a couple of notes first.

Hello to all my new followers! I'm glad you're here and I hope you enjoy the ride. This has been so exciting meeting new people. I know I haven't been as present and active as I should be to get the most out of this challenge. (I blame my new baby who was born on March 30.) Hopefully things will quiet down in May (when there aren't a million posts to read every day).

 It looks like I've confused a few people with all my talk about Ancient Egypt. I am not writing historical fiction. (I so do not want to do that much research.) What I am doing is worldbuilding for fantasy. To that end I am using Ancient Egypt as my inspiration for the particular nation that my current WIP takes place in. This fantasy version of Egypt is called Akhet. I admit that it is very heavily based on Egypt, but it will not be just a copy. I'm taking certain things from the real Egypt and fleshing out lots of other things from my own imagination. I hope to end up with a world that feels real because it is rooted in reality. So here I discuss those aspects of Egypt that have inspired me and how I will be incorporating them into my fantasy world.

M is for Monuments

The temples and tombs of Ancient Egypt. Pictures do not do them justice. One must see them in person to truly realize their scope and their immensity. (I've been fortunate enough to do just that.) What motivated the Egyptians to toil over such amazing constructions?

The truth is that these were far more than just buildings to the Egyptians. Their homes, even the King's own palace, the Egyptians constructed with mud bricks, materials that wouldn't stand the test of time. Precious stone was used only for their monuments because these things were meant to last for eternity.

The tomb especially has special meaning. It says in the Instruction of Djedefhor (which I am quoting from Jan Assmann's Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt):

Build your house for your son;
then a place will be created for you, in which you will be.
Richly equip your house in the realm of the dead,
and effectively outfit your place in the West.
Heed: death counts little for us;
heed: life counts much for us.
The house of death counts for life.
 In this passage the "house" it talks about is the tomb. Likewise the tomb and temple will have a significant place in my fictional world of Akhet. As my main characters are priests, the temple (in this case a Temple of Re) will be a major setting, along with its rituals and responsibilities for the ordering of the cosmos. And the tomb as a house of life will play a major role in the resolving of the conflict.

N is for Nome

What is a nome? Well, it's what Egyptologists called the regional divisions of Ancient Egypt, using the word that the Greek used when recording information about Egypt. The Ancient Egyptian word would be sepat, but I like the sound and look of nome better. Nomes were ruled, under the King, by what we call a Nomarch, which is another term I like the sound of.

When doing research I was able to find the names of the different nomes as well as their capital cities. So I will be able to use authentic names for the cities and districts of Akhet, though I will apply those names as I choose and will not be copying a map of Egypt.

O is for Other Races

At last, a subject that is not directly tied to Ancient Egypt, but deals with questions of fantasy in general. One of the most important questions in fantasy, I believe. Namely, do I want to include non-human races in my fantasy world? It may not seem very important, but I think it ties into the issue of what fantasy really is and what purpose, as a genre, it is meant to serve.

Tolkien, arguably the father of modern fantasy, believed that the focus and purpose of fantasy was about exploring our desires. He also believed that one of the fundamental desires of human beings was to experience contact other types of beings, such as beings of faerie. Hence the popularity of Elves and Dwarves and Goblins in fantasy. These beings are a direct development of beings from our ancient mythologies such as the Tuatha de Danann or the Ljósálfar, precursors to our modern fantasy elves. There is a movement in contemporary fantasy to move the genre away from these tropes. However, I can't help but think anything that removes the genre too far from its mythological roots will ultimately be a negative thing.

So, will I have elves in my fantasy world? Well, not exactly. I will not have genetically separate races that can somehow still reproduce together. (That always bothers me. Half Elves in particular are my biggest fantasy genre pet peeve. Why are they EVERYWHERE? Ahem.) What I will have is one single race, the human race (though I will not use the term "human" you can assume it's the same), that spreads out across the world in the beginning of history. Over time, different groups of these humans will evolve differently due to the different conditions they live under. For instance, one part of the world is always dark, and so the inhabitants of that place evolve extra large eyes with extra large pupils to take in as much starlight as possible. They can see as well at night as you or I can in the daytime. In addition, because of the lack of light the flora and fauna in their part of the world is very different and it has caused them to grow very tall and lean. They will, admittedly, be my version of the Irish Aes Sidhe or fairy peoples.

In other parts of the world there will most likely be other differently evolved peoples, but all will be genetically the same race. And the inspiration for all of them will come from various world mythologies, but fleshed out and developed by my own imagination.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Worldbuilding A to Z: L is for Language

I will never be able to invent languages like Tolkien. (Who can?) It is through names and terminology that I must attempt the conceit of different languages in my WIP. I want the names in my world to seem genuine, like they truly evolved out of diverse but coherent  natural languages. The problem is that I am terrible at making up any names myself. What does a writer do? In my case, I will be using names from real world languages using a different source language for each nation in my world. 

Obviously, in Akhet the source language will be Ancient Egyptian. Now there are unique difficulties with using that source. I can't actually learn the language without a long period of extensive study and maybe not even then. I can't even obtain a useful dictionary of the language. I tried, but the books I found with large glossaries notated the Egyptian words as they would have been written, without their vowels. That's not much use to me. So I have settled on simply compiling a list of names of actual Ancient Egyptian people from my research. I have in many cases managed to isolate the meaning of the different word components of the names. By doing this with any name I can kind a translation of, I can assemble a list of word components that I can mix and match if I want to create a name that means a specific thing.

For instance, the name of the second King of the sixth dynasty was Userkare which is translated as "The Soul of Ra is Strong". Now I can see that the "re" at the end of the name refers to Re/Ra and if you read my post yesterday you know that "ka" is usually translated as "soul". Therefore I can surmise that the "User" element of the name refers to strength.

Right now I have used this method with two important characters' names. My MC's companion and sometimes POV character is named Setekhpenre. The element "pen" I have seen used in enough names where it is connected to the name of a god (penre or penamun) to guess that it refers to being "chosen of" the god in question. Setekhpenre is indeed a person "chosen of Re" for a specific task in my story. My MC is called Kamose. Ka, of course, referring once again to that soul like element of the social self I discussed yesterday. "Mose" can be isolated from names like Thutmose as meaning "born of". Therefore my MC is "born of his ka". That will have significance.

One further concern when working with such names is trying to keep them from being too unwieldy for readers. I am fully aware that in using a language so unfamiliar to English speakers I am risking frustrating my readers. Because of that I have tried to chose and assemble names that are as easy as possible to pronounce while still maintaining the Egyptian feel. In addition, I will most likely include a pronunciation guide for all my names. I've always appreciated those in fantasy books I've read.

What do you think of the names I mentioned above? (Two other names I am using are Asetnofret and Nebetah.) Do you find them too difficult? Would a pronunciation guide be enough to stave off any frustration on your part? Let me know how you like your fantasy names.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Worldbuilding A to Z: K is for Ka

Whew! I just managed to get a post up! Today K is also for my new Kindle, which just came in the mail yesterday. So far I've only downloaded some free samples to check out plus a bunch of free public domain books. (What a great way to get caught up on the classics.) But I am specifically looking for any good self-published works of fantasy. (Admittedly, the cheaper the better. After buying the device, my means are limited.) I'd love to hear suggestions! On to the topic...

The Ka. Another of those distinctly Egyptian concepts dealing with the person that is almost impossible to understand for us westerners. And yet one of the Egyptian concepts that I wanted to incorporate into my fantasy world and its natural laws. Like the Ba, the Ka is generally equated with the western idea of the "soul". Though the Egyptians didn't really have such a concept. So what is the Ka, from the Egyptian perspective?

To understand this I turned to the book Death and Salvation in Ancient Egypt by Egyptologist Jan Assmann. In an attempt to make the Egyptian view of the person more clear, Assmann points to the western concept of body and soul or mind and body and contrasts it with the Egyptian concept of a "physical self" and a "social self". Each of the parts of a person, and there were many in Egyptian belief, fits into one of those categories. Here's where it gets interesting. The ba and the ka both have similarities with the western concept of "soul" (hence why they are often translated as "soul") but the ba belongs to the "physical self" while the ka belongs to the "social self".

To the Egyptians integration into society was extremely important. They believed that there was a crucial aspect of human personality that developed not from the inside to the outside, but from the outside to the inside. One's participation in society and relationships with others were essential to "living" in the fullest sense. (Basically, in Ancient Egypt, if you were a loner you might as well be dead.) It was the ka that helped a person to develop this "social self". The ka was, in Assmann's words, "a sort of spirit, genius or vital energy, a legitimizing, dynastic principle  that is passed along from father to son; for it, the son is dependent on the father."

The ka is represented by a pair of arms in hieroglyphics (like in the image above) which might indicate that it was passed on from father to son with an embrace. The Pyramid Texts describe Amun embracing Shu and Tefnut:

You have placed your arms around them as the arms of ka, that your ka may be in them.

I would discuss a bit how the ka of a person will play its part in my story, but that would spoil it too much. Suffice to say that it will play an important part in how the conflicts raised will be resolved. Together with the ba, of course.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Worldbuilding A to Z: I and J

This Challenge is seriously kicking my butt. Though it doesn't help that my family got sick this week. (Looks like we managed to keep it away from the new baby.) So now I'm playing a little catch up. I'll be posting I and J today, K tomorrow and L and M on Saturday. I'll try to keep the double days short. Maybe on Sunday I can even find the time to get ahead for next week. (Right, that's what I said last Sunday.) Ah well, onward to today's subjects!

I is for Industry...

...which is really just an excuse for me to talk about economy under the letter I since E was used for something else.

There are two main aspects that I will be bringing over from Ancient Egypt into Akhet. One is the centralization of the economy. Everything was ultimately managed by regional administrators. While the bulk of the population was composed of farmers, the land they farmed was owned by the state, the local temple, or noble families. The resulting product would be collected and stored by the temple in granaries from which it would be redistributed to the population. (The Bible story of Joseph makes a big deal of him doing this same thing to save Egypt from the famine, but the fact was that they had always been doing it.) This centralization was one of the aspects of Egyptian culture that kept them stable for so long.

The second aspect is the labor system used to build Egypt's monuments. Most people think it was done by slaves, but this is not the case. The workers were free Egyptians. They didn't exactly have a say in whether or not they were put to work, but they were not owned and they were apparently well compensated. Workers in Egypt were paid in foodstuffs since there was no coinage until the Late Period. Evidence shows that the workers who built the Giza pyramids were fed beef everyday making them some of the most well fed people in the country. It was a tough construction job for sure, but would you do it for the opportunity to eat beef instead of soupy beer everyday? I would.

J is for Justice...

The Egyptians had a very strong sense of justice, which I will be using as a model for Akhet. Ma'at was the name of their concept of truth, order, balance, law, morality and justice. The concept was personified as a goddess who regulated the stars and the seasons and maintained order in the universe.The King was, in a sense, an agent and representative of Ma'at. He was the official head of the legal system and was responsible for enacting laws, delivering justice, and maintaining law and order.

We have no surviving legal codes from Egypt, but court documents show that their laws were based on a common sense view of right and wrong that emphasized reaching agreements and resolving conflicts rather than strictly adhering to a complicated set of statutes. In these days of  complicated legal documents and codes, lawyers and lawsuits I find the idea of a "common sense" law refreshing. It's one of the things I will try to bring to life in Akhet.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Worldbuilding A to Z: H is for History

Even Secondary Worlds need a history. If you want your readers to feel like the world is genuine, if you want to inspire, as Tolkien called it, Secodary Belief, then nothing is quite so effective as the impression that thousands of years of history precedes your story. Make your readers feel the weight of it, pressing on the present, even if you don't divulge the details.

Akhet, like Egypt, is an ancient land, though the story of my current WIP happens relatively early in their history. I would equate it with Egypt's Old Kingdom period. I plan on writing further stories that take place both before and after this one. Like Egypt, Akhet's stable climate and government make them ideal for preserving historical knowledge. Akhet will be a sort of repository of all the world's knowledge. They will remember things that other lands do not.

Once, long ago, it was uninhabited. But a group of people, fleeing from an evil presence, made the almost impossible journey across the desert between the eastern mountain ranges and the river they would later take as their home. The leader of that expedition became the first King of Akhet. His dynasty was long and successful, lasting until the time of my WIP. The events of my WIP and the chaos that they bring can be associated with Egypt's First Intermediate Period, when the government broke down for the first time. In reality, it wasn't that bad, but the literature of the time stylizes its horrors and provides plenty of fodder for the imagination. In my story it IS that bad, even worse. Civilization will pretty much break down and when it's all over, Akhet will need a new start. Thus Akhet's version of the Middle Kingdom will begin.

Other lands will have their history as well. Though only the land of origin will be more ancient and only Akhet will remember and have records of all the world's history. There is potential, in this world of mine, for stories in many times and places. Developing a rich history will help me to find them. At the center of it all will always be Akhet.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Worldbuilding A to Z: G is for Geography

Greetings, all! I am excited today because yesterday I was finally able to order myself a Kindle. (It's my birthday present. No doubt it will be very precious to me.) I've been wanting one for some time now. Since joining the blogosphere I've heard about so many self published books that I really want to check out. Now I'll be able to. Yay!

And on to today's topic. Geography.

Readers of fantasy like to be able to visualize the secondary world that the book takes place in. To that end developing the geography (and preferably including a map) of the world is important. When I sat down to think about these aspects I was faced with a hard question:

Since everyone knows what the geography of Egypt is like, how closely do I want to mimic it in Akhet? Do I want to use that familiarity to my advantage to make people comfortable with the setting? Or do I want to avoid too much similarity that might make Akhet feel like a carbon copy?

In the end I decided on a compromise. I am adopting some aspects of the real Egypt and changing others. The most famous geological feature of Egypt is, of course, the Nile River. Not only does that Nile provide virtually all the water supply there, but it's annual floods fertilize the land making it possible to farm. The Nile is the lifeblood of Egypt and as such a feature that I felt it would be a mistake to do without. So the Nile will be making an appearance in Akhet under it's ancient name of Iteru. However, since I decided to make Akhet more naturally lush than Egypt (there will be clouds and rainfall there, unlike the real thing), I can de-emphasize the annual floods. A mixture of rainfall and flooding will make for a more stable environment.

Egypt is a land surrounded by desert. However, for Akhet I have conceived of a new feature. On the western side of the river there is a sheer cliff face that comes down right into the water and forming at the top an extensive plateau. The rock it is composed of is a unique white stone which the Akhetians will quarry for use in their temples, tombs and monuments. At the time of my current WIP the Akhetians have never managed to scale the heights of the cliff face to explore the plateau. They live entirely on the eastern side of the river. To the east is the desert, a vast uncharted expanse. To the south is the sea, which is a large inland sea. Near the mouth of the river is an island on which the temple complex of Re is located, and where my characters live. To the north... no one knows yet.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Worldbuilding A to Z: F is for Fashion!

Well, it turns out this having a new baby and still doing the challenge thing is pretty hard. I missed my post yesterday (so busy) but I am posting both E and F today so don't miss it, just below this one. I need to set aside some time to try and get a few posts ahead. I've not been able to comment on others' blogs as much as I'd like. I am reading, but holding baby+bottle in one hand and typing comments with the other has turned out to not be very practical. Anyway, on to today's topic.

I think most people are at least somewhat familiar with the styles of the Ancient Egyptians. You can probably conjure up some images of men in short white skirts and women in tight white dresses right now. There are many things I like about Egyptian fashion that I will be preserving in Akhet though I don't plan to copy it exactly.

Egyptians mostly wore clothing made of linen cloth. The linen would be woven very fine for the rich and the royalty and much more coarse for peasants. Tomb paintings depict people dressed in white most of the time, though kings, queens and gods are often shown in colorfully embroidered and beaded clothing. There was some wool available, but only for the rich, and in later periods even some silk. However, for thousands of years linen remained the staple of Egyptian fashion. Linen, I might add, is the most wonderful fabric in the world. I absolutely adore the weight and feel and look of it and so my Akhetians will certainly be primarily dressed in it as well.

Egyptian clothing was very simple. Especially in earlier periods, there was little sewing involved. The cloth in question would be wrapped or draped around the body and held in place with a belt. The belts, among the rich, were often highly decorated. Both men and women wore a robe that Herodotus called a "kalasiris" which was basically a huge rectangle of cloth with a hole cut out for the head and held together at the waist with a belt. Pleating was a common fashion and could be quite intricate though we don't really know how it was done.

I'll be preserving these two elements, the basic white linen (sometimes decorated) and the simplicity of design in Akhet. Though I may play around with the latter a bit. One of my other passions is sewing costumes and one of these days I intend to have some fun trying to design and create the clothing of Akhet myself. I'll make sure to post pics when I do.

Worldbuilding A to Z: E is for Education

Following the example of Ancient Egypt, knowledge and literacy will be very important in Akhet. The Egyptians had great respect for the written word. Scribes held a special place in society and the priests of Egypt were considered by the Greeks to be a source of all knowledge and wisdom. My fantasy realm of Akhet will serve a similar purpose in the wider world. It will, in the later stages of the history, be a place where travelers come from all over the world to learn at the feet of the priests.

Egyptian temples had an associated building called the "House of Life" which served as a library and a a school for priests and scribes. Physicians would also have trained there, I believe, since all physicians were by definition priests of the goddess Sakhmet. In my WIP I have taken the idea of the House of Life and modified it for my world a bit. While all temples throughout Akhet will have a small version of the House of Life, the temple of Re where my main characters live and serve will have a huge complex dedicated to preservation and teaching of the knowledge and craft of the land. It will be somewhat like a university connected to the temple with an extensive library and priests and scribes specially dedicated to the instruction of younger priests and scribes.

What will be taught there? Everything from basic literacy to medicine and astronomy. However, there are some limits. The Egyptians were a practical people, in their own way. Their religion was the heart of their knowledge and every science and branch of learned they pursued had its foundations in their religious beliefs. They counted the hours for the purpose of knowing Re's course across the sky so that they could aid him on his journey. They believed that the source of the Nile was the underworld, Duat, and so they never explored it further in the real world. They were not interested in any knowledge that did not aid their understanding of their religion. (The Greeks were somewhat astounded by this attitude, but it reminds me a bit of Sherlock Holmes who didn't care about whether the earth orbited the sun or the sun orbited the earth since the knowledge had no practical use for him.)

In this environment my characters grow up from young childhood to adulthood. Some of them are content with it. But Kamose-asar, my main character, is of a more exploratory scientific mind. He wants to understand everything but is not allowed to pursue the knowledge he craves. This drives him to some very drastic actions from which the plot stems. They say that there is a fine line between genius and madness. Kamose is straddling it at the beginning of my story. Where will it take him? You'll have to wait until the book is finished to find out. ;)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Worldbuilding A to Z: D is for Duat

Duat is the name of the Egyptian underworld. This is the place where the dead go to be judged in the Weighing of the Heart ceremony and the region they must travel through to get to the Egyptian version of heaven, the Field of Reeds. It was also the place that Re had to travel through in the sun barque during the twelve hours of the night and where he was nightly attacked by the serpent Apep.

The interesting thing about Duat is that it has a geography similar to the world the Egyptians knew. The landscape of Duat was painstakingly described in the text Amduat or "That Which Is In the Afterworld". The Book of Two Ways also contains a map of Duat. Duat had many normal geographic features such as rivers, islands, fields, lakes, mounds and caverns as well as more fantastic elements like lakes of fire, walls of iron and trees of turquoise. It was full of supernatural creatures and spirits who often guarded the many gates that the deceased had to go through and threatened them along the way. The Book of the Dead is essentially a guide book full of all the knowledge and spells a person needed to know to navigate Duat.

Duat is full of potential as a fantasy landscape and it will have a prominent place in my story. To that end I've been studying the Amduat so that I can make my recreation as true to the Egyptian version as possible. Because honestly, it's just awesome. But I'll also have the opportunity to flesh out what is known with my own imagination to create an epic adventure for my characters as they travel in Duat. My main four characters will be making one long journey through Duat and back into the living world towards the beginning of my story and at least two of them will be making a return to Duat towards the end. I'm not going to tell you their purpose or even how it is possible for them to go to the underworld and survive. You'll just have to wait until I finish. ;)

Tomorrow: Education and knowledge in my fantasy world of Akhet.

Monday, April 4, 2011

C is for Cuisine

Greetings, readers! And a special welcome to my new followers. You have excellent taste. Today's topic is C for Cuisine.

Everyone has to eat, even in a fantasy world. From the abundant descriptions of feasting in Redwall Abbey to the simple coney stew that Sam made for Frodo on the road to Mordor, which types of food your characters eat can say a lot about the world in which they live. The food available to your characters depends on the climate and geography of your world as well as things like their social status.

The cuisine of Ancient Egypt was pretty limited by the dynastic period because of the changing climate. Much of the land's game had been hunted out by that time and the increasing dryness meant that there was less that could successfully be grown. Before the dynastic period, however, the land was much more lush and food more plentiful. For various reasons, I've decided to base my fantasy Egypt, Akhet, on a sort of mid-way point between the lush, predynastic Egypt and the dryer, desert Egypt most people are familiar with. This means that I'm not quite as limited when it comes to foodstuffs.

The main staples of the Egyptian diet were bread (made from emmer wheat) and beer. That's beer to eat (a thick, nutritious beer full of solids that was much like gruel) as well as beer to drink. Common vegetables included scallions, garlic, lettuce and celery, as well as various tubers and legumes. Common fruit included dates, figs, grapes, and palm nuts. Honey was the most commonly used sweetener, but was expensive. Carob was a cheaper alternative. Meat was obtained from various poultry such as partridge, quail, ducks and geese as well as domesticated animals such as cattle, sheep goats and pigs and also fish. Though beef was mostly only available to royalty, there is evidence that the workers who built the Giza pyramids were fed beef everyday. Spices used were dill, fenugreek, parsley, thyme and pepper. In addition to beer, water from wells or the river was a common drink and to a much lesser extent milk and wine from grapes, dates and figs were available.

This then is the list of food staples I will be drawing from for my world. My main characters are resident priests and priestesses of the most rich and powerful temple in the land so are not  limited to the diet of the poor. In fact, since priests took their meals from the food that had been offered everyday to the gods of the temple, they would be eating the best that the land has to offer. (Maybe that's why there are stories of people killing for positions as a temple priest.)

Stay tuned for tomorrow, when we will journey together into the mystical landscape of Duat, the egyptian underworld and one of the main settings of my WIP.

P.S. C is also for Corwin! This is what my new baby boy thinks of the outside world:

Saturday, April 2, 2011

B is for Ba

So yesterday I talked a bit about the complicated and very foreign idea of person-hood in Ancient Egypt. One of the most interesting aspects of the Egyptian belief on this subject is the ba. Most people tend to translate ba as "soul" because that's the easiest thing to do, but if you actually read the texts this doesn't make much sense. Louis B. Zabkar in A Study of the Ba Concept in Ancient Egyptian Literature concludes that the ba is closer to meaning a manifestation of a person or god's power. Kings are described as being "ba mighty" or "ba-full" when they are making a show of their power. And in early texts, the ba is the part of the person (always the King) that becomes manifest and joins the gods in heaven after death, it is essentially "deified".

In my "Fantasy Egypt", called Akhet, I wanted to make sense of the ba concept and use it. I have latched onto the idea of the ba being connected to "power" and am modifying it to be a part of my world's "magic system". Thus the "ba" of a person is the part of them through which they are able to reach out beyond the physical realm and participate in the cosmic drama of the universe. The ba of a person is able to touch and affect the aether that surrounds the world and thus perform feats through it that look like magic.

In my fantasy world, I am also utilizing the idea of Aristotelean "Forms" which are basically the perfect, unchanging essences of various things or ideas. For instance, all chairs, no matter how different they are, partake to some extent in the Form of chairness. The ba of a person will be the part of them that partakes of the Form of "person-hood". Since Forms are the ultimate reality, a person's ba will partake of the reality of person-hood to greater or lesser extents individually, different people will essentially be more or less "real". The strength of one's ba will determine to what extent one can perform magic-like feats.

(Side Note: Thanks to everyone for the comments and encouragement the past few days. I have not been here to respond to visit your blogs because I've been in the hospital having a baby. Now that we're home I'll be catching up. This should be an exciting month here on the blog and in real life! Thanks for stopping by.)

Friday, April 1, 2011

A is for Akh

It has begun! Today is the kickoff for the Blogging A to Z challenge so I am incorporating my regular Quote of the Week post into the goal of the challenge and my worldbuilding theme.

Today, A is for Akh.

The meadows are satisfied, the canals are inundated for this N. on this day on which his akh has been given to him, on which his power has been given to him. Raise thyself, O N., take for thyself thy water, gather together thy bones, stand upon thy feet. Thou hast become an akh, the foremost among the akhs. Raise thyself for this thy bread which cannot grow moldy, thy beer which cannot become sour, in order that thou mayest become a Ba through it, that thou mayest become sharp through it, that thou mayest become powerful through it, in order that thou mayest give thereof to him who was before thee. O N., thou art an akh, and thy survivor is an akh.

Today's quote is a passage from the Pyramid Texts which I am quoting from Louis B. Zabkar's A Study of the Ba Concept in Ancient Egyptian Texts. It is an offering ritual performed to render the King into a ba after death. But tomorrow we'll talk about bas, today we're talking about akhs.

The akh is an aspect of what we would call the "soul", the eternal part of a person. It is used at times as an adjective:

"Akh" is a father for his son,
"akh" is a son for his father.

 In those cases it seems to refer to "effectiveness"or "usefulness". At other times when it refers to a part of the person, Jan Assmann translates it as "transfigured ancestral spirit". And in this sense it is used sometimes as something that a person becomes and sometimes as a separate entity that belongs to the person after death. (That same is true of the Ba as well.)

The Egyptians had a very unique view of "personhood". They did not divide a person into "body and soul" or a set of dual physical and spiritual aspects as western culture does. There were up to 14 different aspects of a person named in some texts including the akh, the ba, the "corpse" and two different kinds of "heart". A natural aspect of death was the dissolution of the connectivity between these different parts and their subsequent reassembly in the afterlife.

We cannot fully understand the Egyptian perspective on this subject since the texts take the understanding of it for granted. Some of it can appear contradictory or contrary to common sense. That was one thing I had to work out for my own fantasy world. My goal was to take those beliefs and try to put them together in a way that made sense within a natural world where they weren't just beliefs but were the true way the world works. I'll go into more detail on my results for tomorrow's B for Ba post.