So Tom Knighton had a solid post about diversity in fiction, which led to some good discussion about same. I shared some background on what will be my first novel, and after a little back and forth decided to share some details of the setting here. Sort of a “preview,” a glimpse at the coming attractions. Successful authors do that, right? Well, I will pretend to be a successful author today.
I originally started writing this as some personal background to sort out what my setting is like, but quickly shifted into storytelling mode. This is now my working prologue, for my book, working title The People in Favor. Let me know what you think!
Beginning in the late 18th century and continuing through the 20th, human society advanced with unprecedented rapidity in all areas. Understanding of economics paired with a belief in human freedom and ability helped spark this incredible upward surge in the human condition. Massive leaps forward in biology, agriculture, engineering, physics, medicine, transportation, communication and warfare drove standards of living in developed nations past that previously enjoyed by royalty.
By the dawn of the 21st century, the pace of improvement slowed considerably. The societies that previously led the improvement of man caught themselves in the grip of a terrible cultural ennui. Birthrates in these societies fell below replacement levels, the economies became increasingly convoluted pyramid schemes and freedom was increasingly curtailed.
These cultures, previously stalwarts of modern society and founts of innovation, began a slow suicide course. They encouraged the very traits that bled their coffers while denying themselves cheap and accessible resources with various degrees of moral equivalence, doublespeak and psychological contortions of all kinds. Thus burdened with self-inflicted wounds, these once great cultures were incapable of thwarting the oncoming hordes of the barbarians at the gates.
Like every previous great period in the history of civilizations, the golden age seemed destined to be followed immediately by a dark age of stagnation at best, regression and mass suffering at worse. Then things really got bad.
Nobody knew exactly where the others came from. Later it was determined that they must have been fleeing some great cataclysm on their home world, for their numbers were surely insufficient to establish a permanent colony on another planet – the demands of genetic diversity ensured that. When they were finally able to communicate with humans, they simply called themselves “people,” and they certainly looked like us from a distance.
Up close, there could be no mistake. These other people were known most commonly as “the talls,” as their humanoid forms varied from seven feet tall on the short end to eight feet on the high. They had seven digits instead of five on their appendages, and had vestigial growths coming out of their upper backs. The sensory organs were a mystery, as their faces were unbroken smoothness aside from the mouths. No determination was ever made of sexual organs either.
Of course, none were ever captured alive and undamaged, and they didn’t submit passively for study – or anything else. Given that they chose to land on the Arabian Peninsula, it seems likely that their homeworld is a hotter, drier place than most of Earth. Their advanced power generators make it seem unlikely that the oil reserves would factor into the decision. Little else is known of the invaders.
That they were invaders cannot be doubted. The total destruction of Riyadh, Tel Aviv, Baghdad, Cairo and Tehran was accomplished before we knew they were there. Human life was exterminated in that portion of the globe, and the talls established, before we could formulate a response. When presented with the established fact of the talls living in the Middle East the various nations decided, naturally, to un-establish that fact. The date of first contact is believed to be June 19, 2066.
The United States in those days still had a formidable Navy. Their submarines launched nuclear warheads within hours of the talls’ landing. Predictably, it didn’t do much good. The talls’ defensive capabilities were impressive; the flight of the missiles was re-directed back at the submarines, and most of the life in the Mediterranean Sea ceased to exist.
The Russian and Chinese bombers that were flying to add to the attack were destroyed by the energy weapons of the talls before they could think about joining in. The wreckage from the Chinese planes killed hundreds of thousands on impact near Calcutta.
Next, the talls hit Moscow, Stalingrad, Beijing, Taiwan, Tokyo, New Delhi, Johannesburg, London, Paris, Madrid, Berlin, New York, Los Angeles, Rio di Janeiro and Mexico City simultaneously with unidentified explosive weapons. It is said that more than 500,000,000 people died that day.
So it came to be that within 24 hours, the Earth had new masters. Their superior technology gave them instant dominion over the far vaster numbers of men. Before the talls, man is thought to have numbered over eight billion. The talls numbered less than 10,000. Logically enough, they set themselves up in a sort of satrapy around the globe, with a few dozen overseeing virtually every pocket of humanity. National governments ceased to exist almost overnight. Racial, religious and economic tensions between humans dissolved in the face of this implacable enemy, and mankind slowly forged a new unity in the face of this disaster.
As with any tyranny, there were willing servants for the talls. They allowed small enough towns a degree of autonomy under their chosen mouthpieces. There were far more willing fighters though. With so much globe and so few talls it wasn’t difficult for the insurrectionists to form camps and networks of runners. Global communication networks were of course destroyed, but the old-fashioned methods still worked.
It wasn’t long before the freedom fighters (as they thought of themselves) found out that where nukes and bombs had failed, bullets still worked just fine. The talls had apparently advanced a little too far to deal with plain projectile weapons with no guidance systems and took casualties on all six inhabited continents in the first month. Reprisals were instant, vicious and unfocused. With the humans’ greater knowledge of the terrain and the talls’ inability to conceive of such low tech the fighting groups could almost never be specifically targeted and many noncombatants were eradicated. This served only to push more people into the warrior ranks.
Seeing that they were losing the war with mathematical inevitability after a few short years, the talls took their retribution to startling levels. Best present guesses are that for every tall killed, a hundred thousand humans were slain in retaliation. That did it. Already pushed to their limits to keep fighting, the humans packed it in and tried to salvage a life amidst the smoldering global wreckage.
With any city of consequence in ashes, all infrastructure destroyed and the talls dwindling, humanity seemed on the precipice of extinction themselves. Then, sometime near the end of the 22nd century, the first of the Illuminados appeared.
Nobody could explain exactly why he was so lucky, but it was undeniable. Random chance seemed always to come up in his favor, be it with dice or cards or more complex interactions like machinery failing.
That was the key.
There was, of course, always that element of uncertainty in any science. No matter how small the uncertainty, the Illuminados seemed to benefit from the best possible outcome. If someone tried to shoot him, the gun was likely to jam, or a bee was likely to choose that moment to sting the assailant, or any other number of seeming inexplicable phenomena conspired to help the Illuminados through any situation.
Calling himself only Michael, after the archangel that drove Lucifer from heaven, the first Illuminados rallied the humans against the remnant of the talls. When their energy weapons failed to work properly against the human forces led by Michael, the continent of North America was purged of the talls in short order. More Illuminados began to appear in other places and were called by other names, and by sometime around 2200 the talls were all dead.
The shattered remnants of humanity were left in a curious position. They still had some devices of technology like cars and guns that worked, but very little capacity for producing more. Their ability to ferret natural resources from the earth was crippled beyond hope of immediate repair. All digitally stored knowledge was lost, and many books had been destroyed by the depradations of the talls. Science was set back hundreds of years from pre-tall days. Plant and animal life on Earth had suffered untold devastation, with numerous species forever erased from existence.
The talls themselves, though, had left hope of a technological rebirth – hope in the advanced technology they had left behind. And humanity had los Illuminados on their side to unlock the secrets.
The last of the talls lived a little more than 300 years ago. Humanity is slowly but surely putting the pieces of society back together. With roughly ten percent of the pre-tall population left on the globe, competition for resources is non-existent, and cooperation between cultures is at a historical high water mark. Some technology has been re-gained, but manufacturing capacity remains impaired by a lack of available labor. The technology of the talls is frustratingly difficult to wring secrets from, but the number of los Illuminados is increasing…