If at first you don’t secede: world-building

Hi, peeps–

A friend of mine sent me a link recently from a…ah…shall we say, more “conservative” website in which there was talk about certain southern states seceding from the U.S. I won’t mention the site or the states. Suffice it to say that if you play on TEH GOOGLE for any amount of time with the word “secession,” you’ll no doubt run across many sites whose visitors spend lots of time grumbling about such.

I don’t want to talk about the historical or political origins of such an argument, nor do I want to get into the larger anti-everything that isn’t conservative context in which such an argument percolates. Instead, let’s look at it through sort of a post-apocalyptic lens. Like, say, The Walking Dead. Also, when I bump into talk of secession, I invariably think of world-building in, say speculative fiction.


WTF do I mean? Read on…

I wonder if the people who are spending so much time wanting their state(s) to secede from the U.S. have really thought about what that might entail. Here’s my brief list of things to think about if you want to either secede or set up a workable governing body after a zombie apocalypse (some of these will obviously not apply to the latter). Or to build a fictional world for your next awesome spec fic series.

1. Who’s in charge? And how fast can you get that person/body of officials in charge? In the case of The Walking Dead, we see a situation in which one man, called The Governor, has basically set up a government (his) in a town (his) in which people go about their business (his) under his watchful eye, according to certain rules (his). He’s not adverse to manipulating his miniscule masses, either, to ensure that his idea of post-apocalyptic survival is met. Not exactly “freedom,” is it?

2. Borders. Are you going to build a giant wall around your former state and handle all of the interior like the former East Berlin? Are you going to set up checkpoints? Since residents in the seceded state are no longer residents of the United States, they’re going to need passports to travel into other areas of the United States that have not seceded. Or, in the case of a zombie apocalypse, who mans the border and what sort of zombie controls do you put in place?

3. As a seceded new “country,” that means all shipping into your area is now “international.” You’ll have to re-do contracts with virtually every business out there, because international rules will apply, even if products are, say, moving from Nebraska to the seceded nation of, say, Texas. Shipping rates “internationally” are going to cut into your fledgling budget. In the case of an apocalypse, obviously, not a whole hell of a lot of this will be going on, but you still need to set up some kind of food-procuring system.

4. Not only will you have to get a working government in place, but who’s going to deliver mail and goods? Who’s in charge of infrastructure? You know, those roads and bridges you drive on. You’ll need your own department of transportation to coordinate efforts to keep roads in shape. If you let those fall into disrepair, trucks from the U.S. and Mexico can’t use your roads to get goods to the people in your new country. If you’re living in a zombie apocalypse, well, you need to figure out how to get fuel for any vehicles in your possession that still run.

5. Currency (much further down the line in a zombie apocalypse). On what standard will you base it, and what rate of exchange will it have with the U.S. dollar and/or other international currency? That means you need to get a banking system in place, and figure out how your economy is going to work. What can you import/export? What sort of manufacturing base can you maintain and/or cultivate?

6. Trade with other nations. You’ll need to send diplomats out to other countries (including your neighbor, the U.S.) to develop trade relations that are attractive to those other countries. Nobody’s going to want to trade with you if you have no working infrastructure or economic system in place.

7. Healthcare system. In order to ensure you get good doctors/healthcare professionals, you need to make it attractive for them to move to your new country. How will you do that? What incentives will you offer? And what universities will you have to train professionals? Remember, all the state schools you had prior to your secession are no longer receiving any federal money. So how will you fund these universities, and attract top talent to your new nation? Along those lines, how are you going to educate the children in your new nation, to ensure that they can compete in any field in a global marketplace with talent from around the world?

8. Transportation system. Maybe you’re a curmudgeon kinda Luddite secessionist and believe everybody should just have a car. Well, you need to land those international treaties to get oil shipped to your new country, and you need to ensure that the refining companies are going to work with you. After all, you’re no longer receiving federal funds. You’re on your own. How will you pay for your fuel? If you’re not a curmudgeon kinda Luddite, well, again, how are you going to pay for a transportation system that moves both people and product? Which goes back to maintaining your infrastructure. And if you’re not a coastal former state, well, that means you have to think about getting product into your new country (former inland state) via other means, and that means international trucking agreements. Oh, and airports. You no longer get federal funding to ensure safety standards of your aircraft. How will you get those funds and how will you ensure safety standards? If it’s not safe to fly on your aircraft, nobody’s going to come visit you.

9. Can you afford a military? If so, where will you get the equipment? You’ll have to buy it from the U.S. (from which you seceded), which means, again, international contracts and shipping. Do you have enough people who can serve in the military? If not, then why are you wasting time and resources on raising a military?

10. What sort of cultural ethos will your new nation have? After all, you want to attract talent, don’t you? You want to ensure that you’re right there in the cutting edge of technology and science to bring corporations in. So you need a skilled manufacturing base, skilled administration, and educated professionals. If you base your new country on exclusion (say, only white Protestants can live there), you’re missing out on what could be a lot of potential talent from other countries (including the one you left) and you’re risking alienating trade relationships with countries that don’t want to do business with, hypothetically, racist or theocratic regimes.

These are all things I think about when I’m world-building and/or hear talk of secession and/or think about a post-apocalyptic world. Any of the above lend themselves to creating a world for writing — some points more than others, depending on what kind of scenario/plotlines you’re developing.

If you read speculative fiction, I consider Anne McCaffrey’s Pern series to be some super-awesome world-building. The culture, history, socioeconomic and political structures of Pern incorporate the fascinating world of dragons and dragonriding. So awesomely cool. Another example is J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Layered worlds, of magic versus mundane, and their spillovers. Or how about Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea books? If you’re not familiar with them, check ’em out.

For world-building in writing, try the following:

Fractal Terrains. I have this, actually, and it’s fun. It’s purely for topography and climate, but if you have a bit of anthropology/history training, you can populate it accordingly, with cultures and various species for different environments.

Cool series of links at Orion’s Arm to guide you in world-building.

Essays and articles on world-building, at Evil Dr. Ganymede. Super interesting for sci fi.

Project Rho is considered a really solid, excellent world-building info site.

Myth-Wiki might be helpful if you’re working in the realm of fantasy.

World-Building Part 1, physical setting (Writers on the Storm)

World-Building Part 2, social and cultural aspects (Writers on the Storm)

Writing post-apocalyptic narratives/settings/characters. Warrior Muse has some good tips.

Stacy Whitman, editor of Tu Books, also has some thoughts on post-apocalyptic world-building.

That should get you started. One hopes. 😀

Happy Sunday. And for all of those past and present who are military veterans, thank you for your service.

6 thoughts on “If at first you don’t secede: world-building

  1. I love world building. Unfortunately, I think I spend more time world building than I do writing.

    Right now I’m trying to pin the exact climate down for a moon orbiting a planet we know exists now.

    ok! Back to writing! I’ve spent 10 years on this ‘verse, I might as well get at least one good story out of it!

    (Oh, for people who like to draw maps, there’s a lot of resources out there, and many are expensive. AutoRealm is free.I highly recommend it. http://autorealm.sourceforge.net/ )

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