This will be a short series of (probably three?) posts about a human colony in the 26th century. It’s set in the same setting as my series about life on Venus, from a couple of years ago. This time, we leave the decadent cloud-cities of old Venus for the quiet, respectable colony-world of Guerra.
Memories of the Past
Guerra is a world born in tragedy. Most of its population are descended from settlers who came to the planet during the Exodus – the decades-long process of mass emigration that followed the Liberation of Earth 130 years ago. Most of those settlers came fleeing famine, and scarred by memories of the Occupation. In truth, their situation on Guerra was at first little better: the limited agriculture possible on the infant world was rapidly outpaced by ship after ship of refugees. A sizeable fraction of the settlers, particularly in the later years, were criminals transported and indentured in exchange for clemency. The fledgeling Protectorate did its best to prevent mass starvation, but life was tough at best and for many impossible. Famine struck again two decades later, when Levellers besieged the planet for three years, cutting off energy supplies and interplanetary trade, and yet again under the four-year siege impossed by the vnaorn during the Fourth War. On both occasions, the planet refused to capitulate despite starvation.
Talker Harrower Whitelock (Young Whitelock) is the son of Talker Harrower Whitelock (Old Whitelock), the son of Harrower Whitelock, the son of Harrower Talker. Harrower Talker was born as a man named ‘Reyes’, but his genealogy is lost to history – he came over from Earth on a ship named ‘Harrower’, and like most migrants chose to adopt the ship’s name as his own. ‘Talker’ would then have been adopted as a nickname among the colonists, and by the time of his grandson the name had become used to disambiguate between the various families who all traced their lineage to the Harrower. Although few old Guerran families care to recall their ancestry on Old Earth – and most more recent newcomers have chosen to adopt that amnesia voluntarily, either in agreement or out of a desire to fit in – their lineage on Guerra is extremely important to them. Young Whitelock and his sons (Little Whitelock and Goodplan) are the current embodiment of the blood and spirit that took a great leap into the darkness, that survived hand-to-mouth in war and famine, that built an almost perfect world out of the infertile soil. That legacy, both a comfort and a duty, is central to their identities, just as the memory of the past is central to the identity of Guerra.
The Water and the Hills
Guerra is a world living on the edge. Only a tiny fraction of its landmass is comfortably habitable – a series of narrow strips of land by the side of the long ‘seas’ that fill the planet’s trenches. A number of low-lying plateaux that on another planet would have been ocean basins are habitable for short periods of time by well-prepared humans, and are the location of many mining camps, but they are too cold, dry and thin-aired for easy long-term mass-settlement; the ‘continental’ uplands that make up more than half the planet’s surface may as well be in space in terms of their accessibility – mountaineers, miners and geologists may visit, but nobody lives there. So the life of the colony takes place on the hilly shores of the seas – or even on the seas themselves. Often the easiest way between two settlements will be by boat. The two great cities of Atravida (the capital) and Maquinna are both located on the shores of the sinuous Lake Mariner – though the latter is near the equator, and the former is four thousand miles to the south. Three fifths of the planet’s 600m population lives within twenty miles of Lake Mariner, and most of the remainder live in settlements relatively easily accessible from the lake – the cities of Descubierta and Challenger City (the original capital) are two thousand miles west, across a basin plateau, on the shores of Lake Challenger, while other sizeable settlements line Lake Voyager, a further lake on the same margin as Mariner and accessible by easily-navigable mountain passes.
The sea is of great significance to Guerrans – it is the source of all life, and it is a hub for trade. In the early years of the colony, there were few aeroplanes and fewer railways; even powered boats were a luxury in a time of energy scarcity, and so almost all non-essential travel and trade was conducted by sailing ship where possible. The necessity for this may have passed, but the tradition continues – the ships may carry motors on board in case of ill weather or emergency, but most goods, and most idle travel, go by sail. After all, most goods do not need to be delivered instantly. Some things need to go faster, by a powered ship or by air or by rail… but a trader who sought to replace sail for low-urgency items would be seen as putting profit before tradition, and few would buy from him.
Young Whitelock and his family are not directly involved in the sea trade, but their hometown, Rataq in the region of Aktoon (on the far side of the lake from Maquinna) has a proud sailing tradition and an annual regatta. It has also created artificial reefs in the mouth of the Rataq River to provide entertainment for divers.
But most of Guerra is not a wet world. Even in the lands by the trenches, rain is precious, and the spring floods from the glaciers. Nowhere on Guerra is far from a glacier – they haunt the high mountains that loom over the trenches. Guerra is a paradise for mountaineers – soaring peaks, easily accessible. The tallest, Mount Roselind, is over 15,000m, but is remote and hard to reach; the most famous is the great Mount Bustamante, 11,000m and visible from Atravida itself. In Aktoon, the mountains are smaller – Rataq’s local icey giant is Mount Thaani, 6,000m and a scenic trek up the Rataq River. And it is certainly is scenic: like many rivers on Guerra, the Rataq carves canyons up to two kilometres deep in its short, precipitous journey from the mountains to the sea. The high mountains may lure the professional climber, but it’s the hills and canyons of the middle course of the river that draw the casual visitor, whether for rock-climbing or for simple hiking.
Cities, Towns, Villages
Guerra is home to a number of large cities – Atravida and Maquinna are each home to over 50m inhabitants, while Descubierta and Resolution are megacities in their own right. A lack of resources during their foundation, coupled with the lack of existing confining land rights and a certain claustrophobia issuing from memories of the Deluge, has lead to these cities being rather more expansive than is conventional on Earth. Many people live in buildings no more than five or ten storeys high, and there are great swathes of gardens and parkland even in urban areas.
Atravida and Maquinna are the heart of the colony, but many of the planet’s inhabitants have pursued more independent living, again driven by the memory of the Deluge and the Occupation, and by the simple congestion of Old Earth. In almost all colonies, the settlers have shown a drive to spread out, to find new ground; on Guerra, the limited space available and the early limitations on travel have lead to that drive being focused on local hinterlands rather than far-flung homesteads. The main regions of Guerra are spotted with every size of settlement – megacities, cities, towns, villages – in a low-density but continuous fabric of habitation. Living in a remote area requires effort and dedication on Guerra, and although many settlements are small in themselves few are isolated from larger populations. In the early years of the colony, there was a great deal of internal migration; more recently, however, regional populations have become more sessile, and as a result have moved toward developing their own identities, although cultural variations still remain minimal. Young Whitelock, for example, is of the third generation of his lineage to live in Rataq, although his wife hails from the Voyager region.
The connexions between settlements within a region are strengthened by the extensive ownership of multiple residences. It is common for farms and village houses to be owned by those living primarily in larger cities. Young Whitelock, for instance, owns an apartment in Rataq, where he spends most of his time, but he also owns a part-share in a farm just outside the village of Twilight-beyond-Rataq, where he spends most of his holidays.
Owning a rural home is the dream of almost all Guerrans. Guerran society may therefore be divided into four classes: those who cannot afford a rural home; those who can; those who live and work in the countryside; and those who live in the countryside and do not need to work, but subsist on rents. The urban poor, who lack country houses, are mostly congregated in the megacities.
Architecture on Guerra follows the traditions set in the early days of the colony. The ‘Founder’ style, still dominant in towns and cities, consists of thin, rectangular towers, often five- to ten-storeys in height, with many small windows, connected by thin tubular walkways. The walls are typically concrete, reinforced with fibre, and many are left unpainted, or else are painted beige, brown or pale yellow. This architectural approach attempted to provide dense habitation while compensating for the poverty of the colony – the lack of energy and the cost of fibre production. As that povety has lessened, the towers have grown taller and broader (the greater internal space being easier to light artificially now), but the same general style is still followed. In the hinterlands, the ‘Settler’ style is found on farms and in small villages, and in ‘old towns’ within larger settlements. These buildings were originally constructed of local materials – stone, later brick, with tiled roofs. Later, smooth plaster renderings were added. Whitelock’s farm is typical of later Settler architecture: a beige, rendered building sits on a plinth of irregular (mortared) stone, with stone quoins, while bare bricks protrude to frame the windows and doors, and the roof is tiled. Here and there, additional tiles have been pressed into the render to add interest and break the monotony of the bare walls.
However, there are exceptions to the dominance of Founder and Settler styles. In the early years of the colony, some important public buildings were built in the Meta Gothic style then dominant on earth, and the local Gothic idioms continued to be used in large constructions for most of the 25th century. Guerran Gothic idioms (the most famous of which is Atrevidian Gothic) are largely in line with the Gothic of the 24th century, which is to say that they favour huge, massed buildings with black or grey stone vertical façades, ornamented by monumental statuery, and the whole having a slight ‘melting’ or ‘dripping’ appearance; however, Guerran forms are much plainer, with squarer lines, more windows, fewer statues and ornamental features and so forth. Atrevidian Gothic makes considerable use of brown stone, due to the geology of the area. Later Earthican influence has led to the replacement of Gothic with Tritero styles for iconic buildings – these favour white, organic and curving forms, and individualistic designs – although a greater factor has been simply the reluctance of Guerrans to commission buildings that so clearly intend to ‘stand out’ from others. This is liable to be seen as elitism, a serious faux pas on Guerra. Further Earthican influence has also lead to Populist and Tinted constructions in the megacities, and the small number of migrants from other worlds do sometimes bring their own styles with them, but for the most part Founder style is good enough for Guerrans.
Guerra is a world with long memories of famine. Food is therefore of utmost importance to its citizens. Needless to say, most of its food is produced intensively in the cities themselves. Algal farming supplies a solid base of nutrition, mainly consumed by the poor, while intensive aeroponics provide most of the world’s food. Specialised facilities grow luxury foodstuffs, such as fruit, the ultimate delicacy on Guerra. However, a very sizeable fraction of Guerra’s crops are provided by traditional, extensive, horizontal agriculture.
There are several reasons for this. One is fear. In case of another vnaorn attack – or indeed a terrorist campaign by democrats or other radicals – endless fields of crops make a far more resilient foodsource than brittle urban farmscrapers. Another is tradition: in the colony’s impoverished birth, intensive agriculture, while central to early survival, was slow to develop, to the point of causing famine. As a result, settlers turned fallow land to agricultural purposes as rapidly as their technology allowed. In particular, as settlers moved further from the early colonial centres, further from technology and wealth, they increasingly turned to their own sources of food. Agriculture has therefore become pivotal in the Guerran identity, a symbol of independence, resilience, tradition, and the simple humility of a post-war people. Guerra sees itself as a world of farmers. Young Whitelock, for example, owns his share of a large farm outside Twilight-beyond-Rataq, where he and his co-owners mostly grow teff – although they have plots set aside for luxuries, curiosities and experiments as well (they grow their own wine for special occasions).
For that reason, the greatest cultural celebration on the planet is the harvest festival. The Guerran middle-classes own or part-own rural farms, but only women live on them. For the men, the farm is a place for working holidays – the larger parts of farms are essentially time-shared between families. Men live in towns and women live in small apartments in the farm, but the large farm houses themselves are a place for men and women to join together as a family to do their part running the farm for a while, with families taking it in turns throughout the year. The exception to this is Harvest. At Harvest, all the owners of a farm come to the farm to help out in the harvesting of crops (for the richer families, who hire farm workers to do the actual work the rest of the year, this is the only time they actually get involved in farm labour at all). It’s a time of some hardship – the work is arduous, and by tradition all the families forget about their own apartments and try to live in the main farm houses at the same time, which means temporary camp beds in the living rooms. But it’s also a time of celebration and solidarity, binding all the farm’s families together, and binding them to their neighbours, and to any non-resident farm workers, and to local villagers. All other holidays pale into insignificance before the year-defining institution of Harvest.
One thing that is very difficult to farm on Guerra, however, is good wood. Small forests have been planted in places, particularly near Atrevida, but most wood, and in particular almost all hardwood, must be imported from Earth, making it expensive – many of the most prized possessions of Guerran households are items carved from good Earthican wood by local Guerran craftsmen.