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Medieval fantasy...with radios
So. Picture a quasi-medieval society, like in your average fantasy story, but with radios. Something like a simple chemical battery and a crystal radio and a crude loudspeaker. The first two are simple enough to create with crude tech levels, loudspeakers and strong transmitters might be a big can of worms, but let's just assume it works. Perhaps it's some sort of pre-apocalyptic leftover that can't be reproduced but is reasonably common, or can be crudely reproduced but no longer understood. Preferably, no portables, although you might have one driven around in a cart. I don't want to get too deep into the specifics, unless the handwaves grow too large to dismiss.
People till the fields by hand and ox all day, but when they go to the local inn to wound down, there's a radio in a corner. Mostly news, speeches, prayers or sermons from the local convent, perhaps live music if you're lucky. I imagine it being mostly run by amateur radio operators, but the authorities enforcing some sort of top-down model is probably the likelier outcome. There might still be a place for wandering bards - who knows, perhaps your radio plays music because the inn next village flipped theirs into transmitting mode - but in this world they are no longer a part of the stereotypical fantasy inn.
What do you think of it? Can you imagine how would that world work? Do you see any issues?
And I've also been reading about the flow of information lately (but in the modern world and in very specific contexts but just from that):
Man, this is fun.
I do think this could have totally supported it's own thread, and we definitely need a few more of those around here (even if they only go for 2-4 replies).
Are you saying that this would result in the rise of fantasy espionage? I could totally see that being a thing.
See, there is the hidden folk. Elves, sprites, you call it. They live deep in the woods, within mountains, or even in the skies, far from the eyes of mundane people. They don't want you to see them, but sometimes, you can catch a glimpse. Sometimes, when it's late at night and there's a thunderstorm, you may hear your radio buzz out a few tones that can't seem to match lightning strikes. Sometimes, you can almost hear garbled words that you would surely understand if it wasn't the one night you had a fever and felt so dizzy. Sometimes, when searching for the signal, you catch a few notes of an otherwordly melody that you can't ever catch again no matter how long you spend trying to locate its frequency. That's how you know you heard them playing their games.
I think this would make a great premise for a kid's monster catching franchise with a cool old-school radio flavour, as 'catching signals' and therefore the hidden folk themselves could be a fun mechanic where you maybe ask for help from them for a dungeon or two and then part ways at the end.
Or, you could go full high fantasy and have a story where the main characters seek out the rumors of somebody who managed to capture an elf or faerie in their radio. Of course this version ends very badly as the elves/fae enact tragedy upon tragedy on humanity to get back one of their own.
As for high fantasy, been thinking how our premise changes the generic story. Got the idea that the farmboy brought up by uncle will want to become a radio operator, so far not much more. But, some tortured lone genius somehow capturing a faerie with a custom radio, and the protags having to figure it out and solve the issue... now there's a plot.
You can also have elves as just a piece of folklore, but instead of purely old-timey stories, you mix them with amateur radio folklore and conspiracy theories. Lost Cosmonauts might become another one.
Also, there's a few things I realized I had failed to approach, namely, this post.
So. I kind of pictured things going on a lot on the local level, presumably due to Le Guin's influence on me. She did have a lot of that small-scale-written-by-anarchist sort of stuff. So, whether it causes unification or fragmentation of a language... not sure. To be honest with you guys, I would prefer to avoid the issue altogether if it can be safely handwaved away. Perhaps both options at once, if one commonly switches between local and kingdom-level.
The (quite horrifically) nasty thing - you touched that indirectly - about giving people a platform is that the spread of modern media is linked as a factor in the Rwandan genocide. More people linked in meant that more people listened how those other guys are the cause of every problem in the world. So there's that.
On the other hand, the conflict of local vs. global might be the source of tension within the story. Or, if the device has been known for long enough, the superior authority is seen as a sort of elder-among-elders, with the king and great nobles being another layer on top of local communities. Which is, I guess, not that far from the default feudal model. Then again, to assume that might mean we're being too neglectful of the potential issues. I'll have to think of it.
Well, the main concept in Digimon (well, according to the Adventure director and therefore probably just Adventure) is that Digimon always existed and manifested in strange forms only in passing until human technology caught up with whatever frequency the Digital World happens to operate on.
Yeah, I really like this. Sounds fun. Personally, I don't think I could work on a story in this era because of all the research it would require, but I really would love taking a crack at it.
Oh, considering the fragmentation of language, that'd be a really good story on it's own.
I totally understand. I mean this is such a cool, open-ended concept that could go in any direction. There isn't just one right answer here, I'd say.
Yeah, I'm probably going to take a crack at a few concepts now.
So, about every time I think of story set there, I end up with something akin to Le Guin's. What can I say. She might just be my favourite writer, not gonna lie. Overally, what we've come up with so far seems borderline "one good gimmick". Like, it's what we started with but it seems possible to develop it beyond novelty factor. We've already had the language issue brought up.
I keep imagining abbeys, like in the Middle Ages, as an important part of the society. Technological base for the technology? Perhaps the nobles are more like in Early Middle Ages than all that castle-dwelling High and Late Middle Ages lot. Or do you have any ideas that go beyond medieval Western Europe?
Also, we can aim for a story, or develop it as a setting. I'm not much of a story writer, not least for the fact that you need to keep writing until you reach the end and it needs to keep making sense along the way, but apart from this fault of mine I'm all fine with doing it.
Well, I have had ideas set in modern times but those turn it from "nascent technology" to "remember walkmans those were the best!"
Sorry, I'm having a hard time writing anything not set in modern times. I've thought of a few concepts, but none really come together.
I mean, a simple concept I was kind of lobbing around was a young man (16ish) set to start his first job but not knowing what to do with himself. Afraid he's going to be consigned to the mines or other menial work like his older brothers, he tags along with a new friend one day (a boy whose family hawks foreign fabrics and such, because I can't write anything pre-modern without including somebody who is akin to the modern fashionista) when he's showing the family's latest wares at a particularly rich families home.
Whilst there, they meet the young lady of the manor, her mother, and one of her tutors. The tutor somehow finds the boy's curious nature interesting and asks him to meet him at his home if he's looking for a job, which happens to be the creepy windmill in the desolate fields that everybody in the village is always warning each other about.
The man has been messing about with the mysterious lost technology, "radios", which the boy has dismissed as a fad of the times. The boy puts his qualms away and with a wide-knowledge of crystals that he's inherited from reading lots of books he shouldn't have been, he and the man hit a frequency that accidentally allows a fae to possess the boy.
So you have the boy just rush out into the empty, barren fields and start dancing around. At first the scientist guy thinks the boy has lost it, but actually the fields start to grow again, very slightly. Of course, this is also extremely draining on the boy's body, and the old man quickly dismantles the radio to set the boy free. They only notice the growth in the field once they're done with this, of course.
Now in the surrounding villages, there have been rumors of more... permanent possessions. The sort that start with hearing a voice whisper into your ear and end with unsalvageable strong human/whatever hybrids. The kingdom so far has been dismissing these as just some sort of hysteria.
When the boy realizes, sort of, that the two things are probably linked, he refuses to go back to work with the man. That's when the young lady's mother from earlier calls on him, wishing him to go back to work on whatever they're doing, because she's afraid her daughter has been, erm, "called".
Our protagonist is very nope.jpg on the whole "allowing research to be conducted on his own body" thing, but the groundskeeper's son overhears this all, and in service to the lord and lady of the house, decides to help. Now, compared to the protagonist, this is a big guy, so this introduces an element of the story that whilst the protagonist is no longer at risk of losing himself, it would be in his best interests not to let somebody several times his size go insane whilst they do experiments.
And then stuff would go from there.
tl;dr The base concept is that the fae and elves and such are attempting to cross on their own for as of yet unknown reasons, and using the radios allows human beings to sort of mess with this magic in a semi-controlled area. I would need for the world to somehow already be skeptical of magic and such (aside from I guess the divine right of the regents) but otherwise I think I could do fantasy in these conditions... maybe.
This diverges from the original prompt quite a bit, and I have this bad tendency to write my stories as if they're meant to be the first part of a long-running franchise sometimes. In fact, here I basically took a fantasy world and made it very, very character based.
Oh wow that's a lot more detailed than I thought I had down.
I'd actually get started on this right away, or at least try, but right now I'm about 18/50? chapters into my own latest thing. I really wanted to finish my second story before the end of the year or maybe even this month if I ignored all my distractions.
As a setting, I think you'd need to focus on a lot of detail straight off the bat, and I'm not really a 'mold what I want to write to the world' type of guy. I'll leave the setting stuff to you!
I don't see how that's bad, unless you're a borderline (or not even borderline) autistic nerd who thinks worldbuilding means reading about plate tectonics. (See also: r/worldbuilding.)
Dude, respect, my own writing projects tend to fizzle out even when I do manage to start them. Do finish your own stuff, I'd never ask you to drop it. So you having produced this whole plot since yesterday is pretty impressive to me.
If I was writing it, I'd stay with the basic premise of radio as already proliferated technology, present the elven possession/abduction as something that occasionally just happens, and make the story play out on a personal level, as some sort of radio-themed retelling of the folk legends of somebody taken by faeries and somebody close to him/her seeking them out to retrieve the first one. I'm saying this so you know what I vaguely had in mind, but I'm not trying to make you change your idea, so don't take it that way.
Trying my best, although I am somewhat afraid of spoiling story ideas with worldbuilding ideas.
Also - the rest of you guys, you're free to chime in.
I mean, I'll never be one of those writers who has a world map drawn out but there'll always be a part of me that's slightly jealous of that.
Personally, I still think it's lacking! But one thing I've found is that your premise by itself can't be compared to the end product of Actual Story, so I guess that's a good feeling to hold on to.
I like to think of writing not as a set narrative, so any challenging changes are always welcome. I'll try to right with them, not around them. In the long haul, I think it makes everything better.
Yeah I have this really bad habit of, y'know, quitting. Either to work on something else immediately or just because I run out of steam. Either way it wouldn't be your fault.
I'll try to continue with ideas that might come to me in time. Or flesh out these few I already had. Perhaps think about the internal logic of this world. Don't feel like drawing tectonic plates and all that lot though. But then, it's fun enough for me not to mind doing it if need be. Let's just say we'll come up with a map if we need to have a map.
Like I said I keep thinking of our premise as somewhere between low fantasy and a folk tale, at least in the worldbuilding department. (Digression: young adult fiction plotlines seem to fit that theme perfectly well, given how many folk tales involve a young adult embarking on an epic adventure. But moving on.) So, if possible, I tried to avoid the standard grumpy-Scottish-miners fare. Came up with something like this.
Our elves, instead of the Tolkienian fare, are a bit of a cross between fairies and radio phenomena. So I've been thinking, let's make the dwarves mountain sprites. Perhaps the name "gnomes" would be better, or go edgy and call them, like, in German or what ("dvergr").
So, mountain spirits. They don't like it when you build a mast on their mountain. That's why it's difficult and there are accidents and landslides and lightning strikes. That's why it's a lonely and risky business, being a radio operator there. Also, dwarves are associated with earth and rock and elves with nature and air, which puts them at odds. Hence the common notion that dwarves don't like the elves and that this is why they oppose construction. No wonder the mountaintop stations are usually run by cloisters, the monks knowing best how to appease the dwarves. (Think the Benedictines at Monte Cassino, or the Meteora complex in Greece. For gaming reference, perhaps also that mountain with supermutants from Fallout: New Vegas, except without the supermutants.) Leaving small offerings of food is the most common method, followed by apotropaic amulets and warding rituals, and monks know best how to pull off all three, so, again, no wonder they rarely have weak signal.
Side note: I really have to check if there's such a thing as radio operator folk lore. Perhaps telegraphers are a potential source, and faxlore already exists, so there's that.
I like dwarves. I think practical-minded mountain sprites is a nice divergence from the usual tree huggers. They could be concerned with the more brutal parts of nature, rather than all the sweet things.
Nice. I like the idea that signals are weak and terrible because they're constantly having to run out and appease rogue mountain spirits.
I think it would be really weird if there weren't such a thing.
By the way, I'm suddenly pretty free right now in terms of writing (though I was thinking about delving a bit more into the visual arts). All I'm doing is editing, so I could spend a bit more time on this in the near-ish future.
Also, yeah, it'd be fun if problems in radio operation like weak signals or constant buzz or the like are popularly attributed to fairies. Like, picture any folksy superstition and think how radio operation can be thought of in this way. Milk spoiled? A dwarf pissed in it. Buzz on the line? An elf tugs on the signal. Are all such stories true? None? Some? Who knows.
I was thinking "gnomes" become dwarves and elves remain their own thing.
I also did a bit of digging and found out that radio waves can work as ground waves or skywaves. Surely this scientific application can be co-opted for more mystical purposes.
Even if we were to stick to one sort of radio broadcast (which could be either, or something else like line of sight) we could come up with a solid history-based (I'd shy away from saying "science-based" in this context) reasoning for how radio waves work. In fact, if the protagonist of the story is studying radios, then having multiple forms for them to study would be a fun starting point. I mean something like skywaves could be explained as working by hitting and diffusing through the world's natural aether barrier.
By the way, I like the idea of monks at the farther away radio towers, by the seas and on mountains and such, would broadcast either some form of fantasy religion study intersped with practical tips on warding off mischievous spirits.
I haven't found much in the way of creepy legends but I did find some interesting information on programming.
There used to be shows named after products, like the Champion Spark Plug Hour, and others that adapted Hollywood movies into radio plays, which sounds really cool.
Also a soap opera that was probably literally about soap.
(I write "he", but consider it generic.)
Also, yeah, old-timey physics naming patterns are yet another thing worthy of research.
Hitting the post button, will think of stuff to write later, edit or new post.
A radio deadzone around a castle, put in place by having special crystals surrounding the general area/estate. Maybe on the outskirts of the castle/palace, we could have a single radio-tower for all official communications. Maybe make it bigger and have a station with multiple radio receivers for places all over the kingdom.
Assassins/spies who use a special sort of morse code to communicate via raw crystals. This would work by dropping crystal fragments in the direction you were going, all cut from the same crystal, so that the message bounces from one to the next. These crystals, outside of a radio, wouldn't be able to communicate coherent messages.
As for the royal concept, maybe have an area fully taken over by some sort of amalgam of fae and whatever that has been corrupted somehow, make it a radio dead-zone. This could be a very well-known dead-zone where people don't dare to tread (and it's been kept from most of the public for decades) or a relatively new area that makes the kingdom's rulers very concerned about the future.
Our young protagonist, a prince who dreads his inheritance as King, becomes very concerned when a trusted aide of his volunteers to go in to this area but doesn't come back.
So our protagonist figures out, via his various adventures experimenting with the radio and saving people possessed by fairies or dwarves, that there's a special combination of crystals that will make radio communication possible in this area.
Running counter to his machinations is the faeries plan to expand the area, for whatever reasons. Maybe humans corrupting the land, or maybe the accessing of the faerie realm via radio actually has immense adverse effects for those who get 'caught' in the signals, destroying the elves/fairies/gnomes, or driving them so mad that they must be magic-euthanized.
And, maybe, these fairies are indeed correct, but simultaneously the corruption they're accepting into their bodies is blinding them to simpler, less brutal solutions. Or maybe their leader is just an authoritarian who wants humans g-o-n-e.