I knew I wanted to write an Earth vs. Aliens story. Readers love them. So do I. What I don’t necessarily love are the typical main character types of Space Opera & Military SF: the young hotshots, the jaded Space Marines, the smartypants scientists, all highly proficient at using futuristic tech that they take for granted.
And oh, the Federations, the Commonwealths and such. Future Earth’s defenders always need some kind of flag to fly. A unified human government that works? Seems kinda implausible, but it’s a trope that no one minds too much in the genre. Alternatively, inter-human politics can be used fuel conflict, with different factions or classes maneuvering for power.
To be sure, all of this can be, and has been, done very well. But I don’t want to rely too heavily on tropes, especially ones I’m not fond of. Nor do I want to write about politics. Or tech-proficient scientists and Space Marines, for that matter.
What to do, then, if I want to create an Earth vs. Aliens scenario? Earth has to be high-tech and have warp drives and asteroid habitats and stuff, right? Then again, maybe modern-day humans could fight aliens, Independence Day style. At least those characters would know what a planet is. A spaceship. A laser. And they need that, at minimum, right?
Hmm… maybe not. There’s this thing called Alternate History I know a little about. What if the history of Earth in this book is not the same as ours? What if the evil aliens started visiting Earth long, long ago? Like, say, at the dawn of civilization.
Let’s start there. What might these alien visitors do? Stick around and build pyramids and be worshiped as gods, of course. Maybe not. Blow up Earth? More believable, but there’s not much of a story there. Observe, abduct, and experiment on humans? That’s the basis for a different type of story entirely.
What if they didn’t care much about humans except to make sure that we never, ever developed the type of civilization that could fight a war against them?
Okay, that one. But how might they hold us back? A vast network of agents working slowly over generations, surely.
Or… they could just casually swing by every few centuries and blow shit up. Specifically, cities.
Without cities, there’s no industry. Lots of things disappear, possibly including history itself. If the written records of a culture are stored in its capital (as tended to be the case) and that city is annihilated, all that’s left are stories. A century or two after its destruction, every city basically becomes what Atlantis was to ancient Greeks, a legend of something that existed a long time ago. Given the spans of time and distance involved, it’s likely that humans wouldn’t even be able to detect a pattern.
I like that: a permanent Dark Age where Earth is an anthill that aliens stomp on now and then. Then they leave, and humans start from scratch, over and over again.
There’s my starting point. But who will be the heroes, and when will events take place?
Scythian is a cool sounding word. Simple as that. That’s why it came to mind. But it so happens that Scythians are also a pretty perfect culture to combine with this premise. Not a lot is known about them, precisely for the reason that they didn’t build cities or leave written records. What we know about them largely comes from historians of external societies, like Herodotus, who paints a picture of savage, heavily tattooed, cannabis-using, blue-haired horse-archers who literally drank from the skulls of enemies that dared to violate their territory. Think Mongols or Huns, but earlier in time. Since Scythian culture is nomadic, it’s likely to be among the least affected (perhaps even empowered) by aliens periodically destroying cities.
Scythians are also long thought to be the source of Amazon myths. Something like twenty percent of Scythian warrior burial mounds (kurgans) excavated have been found to belong to females. It wasn’t a matriarchy, but clearly it was a culture in which women fought alongside men. I originally had a male main character in mind, but I begin to wonder if a female wouldn’t be better…
I don’t even need to be limited to Scythian characters. With all the destruction and migration of this premise, populations would intermix. Great, then I want a Viking, too! In further developing the concept, I came up with another interesting means of incorporating representatives from almost any ancient culture. I’ll let you learn that by reading the book.
Perfect. Now we’ve got the type of characters I prefer over hotshots and Space Marines and a geographical setting. Ancient Scythia was centered in the Black Sea area in and around modern Ukraine. My imagined capital of Roksinaki (a place which historically might have briefly served as a Scythian capital) is located in the Crimean Peninsula on the northern edge of the Black Sea. (Since it’s alternate history, I might have moved them to some other location, but I saw no good reason to.)
Incidentally, I decided to rename my Black Sea ‘the Bleak Sea.’ Why? One theory for the origin of the sea’s name is that black is a directional color associated with the North, particularly to Turks who lived on its southern shore. The Black Sea would be ‘the Sea to the north.’ Scythians on the opposite shore probably wouldn’t call it that. The ancient Greek name for the sea translates to ‘inhospitable.’ I thought that in English the word bleak was a nice crossroads between the two names: very similar visually to Black, and close in meaning to the Greek name.
So that’s the who and where sorted out.
The more I thought about this question, the less it seemed to matter. The real Scythians were at their peak in the first few centuries BCE, but we’re talking alternate history here, so I have some freedom. So much freedom, in fact, the date of the story becomes almost arbitrary. Do I decide that it’s 500 BCE? Is it the year Zero? 1000? 2018?
Ah, but those are all numbers from a calendar which doesn’t exist in the world I’ve created, and it never will. How can it, if every city mentioned in every holy book you’ve ever heard of was wiped out? No matter what year I pick by our own dating system, that would be me, the author, simply providing information to you, the reader. And since the Earth of our story exists in a history-less cycle of endless Dark Ages, it’s not even information that’s pertinent within the story. Did I really need to bother playing ‘Pick a number’?
Not convinced? How about an argument from a physics angle?
Anyone who reads a bit about the cosmos knows that time is … well, relative. We tend not to think about it when watching a movie or reading a novel about galactic wars, but the very idea of events at one end of a galaxy happening ‘at the same time’ as events on the other end is problematic, to say the least. One might argue that once you throw a warp drive into the mix, it gets less complicated. You do something in one place, then warp away and do something else ‘far, far away.’ The actions are linear and everything makes perfect sense. Maybe. maybe not. I tend to think adding hyperspace would realistically make matters of Time more complicated, not less!
But since I’m not writing Hard SF here, I won’t be exploring the nature of Time & Space or anything. But on a very basic level, I think anyone who knows some basic facts about the universe (as you all do) would agree that 3,000 years is pretty much an eyeblink on a cosmic scale. To me, that makes it seem even less important that I pick a more or less random number between -500 and 2500 for my setting.
One more reason, and call it a commercial one, but putting any historical date into the book’s description might put off Space Opera readers, who are used to seeing dates like 2258 and 3125. This series is Space Opera, even if Book One takes place mostly on the ground, and I want those readers. I don’t want this looking like a historical series.
So there you have it: the Who, Where and When of SCYTHIAN DAWN, even if it turns out one of them doesn’t matter. (Way to go, P.K. Readers just LOVE being told that stuff doesn’t matter!)
What are your thoughts? Let me know in the Comments. And if you haven’t, go ahead and read the book, which is fully posted here (in beta form) on this website.