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Friday, July 25, 2008


Get your editing hats on!

Okay, here's the thing. I'm currently editing my second book, and I'd like to ask you all to help.

The book has a fantastical premise, and what I've learned is that, if you make one of those up, people tend to start joining in. They say, 'But what if this? What about when that happens?' And, the quirks of people's brains being an almost limitless resource and me being only one person, chances are there's a limit to how many of these questions I'll anticipate. Obviously, the more I anticipate now, the better, because by the time the book's printed and on the shelves, and somebody comes along and says, 'But hang on, what about such-and-such?', it's too late to do anything about it.

So, I'm going to tell you the premise of the book, and I want you to quibble with it. Ask me what happens under any circumstances. Point out inconsistencies. Spot potential problems. Weigh in. Get creative. Pick nits. There are no quibbles too stupid, no questions too small. Let's play.

I'll then review all your points as I'm going through the redraft, and hopefully turn out a book at the other end that answers all these questions, or at least, all the ones I can reasonably address.


Here are the ground rules, including a few legal disclaimers, as I'm sure most of you are normal nice people but you never know when the odd unreasonable bod is going to crop up.

1. I'm not gonna answer the questions on the website; if you want to know the answers, you'll have to buy the book.

2. I may not address everything; if it seems like the disruption to the book outweighs the benefits of answering the benefits of answering a question, I may regretfully have to ignore it. Don't take this personally.

3. I'll deal with your questions as I see fit; if you don't like my solutions, sorry, but that's my call.

4. The book remains entirely my copyright and intellectual property. If you make a suggestion and I am inspired by it or include it any way, that in no way entitles you to any right/s in the book, any right to control what's done with your suggestion, or any money made by me or my publishers or licensees in relation to the book at any point.

5. The copyright in the book remains mine. If the questions get you thinking and you feel the urge to write something of your own inspired by this, knock yourself out, but there's a difference between influence and plagiarism, and the latter is not okay.

6. By posting on this site, you irrevocably agree to these above conditions.

(Hopefully none of this really needs saying, but just in case anyone feels litigious later, it's best to clarify everything now.)


So, having got that out of the way, here's the premise:

In the ninth century, the deepsmen invaded the canals of Venice and laid siege to the city. Out of the water walked Angelica, half-landsman, half-deepsman, a two-tailed woman capable of walking on the land and swimming in the sea, and speaking the languages of both peoples. Angelica brokered a peace and forged an alliance between the landsmen and the deepsmen, and made Venice so strong that, centuries later, any nation with a sea border and a navy still needs for its ruler one of Angelica's descendants: a hybrid king, able to communicate both with the people of the sea and the land. Without them, no nation can protect its navy, and becomes too vulnerable to invasion by sea.

The penalties for any landsman who breeds with a deepswoman are severe, and any 'bastard' child found - any hybrid not directly descended from the princes - is destroyed by the state. Having a king's body but not a king's family, bastards pose too strong a threat to the succession: bastards in the past have raised armies and usurped kings. But now the royal house of England is failing, weakened desperately by inbreeding, and when a bastard boy is abandoned on an English shore and taken in by landsman, a secret conflict begins...

So, what are the problems with that premise? Come one, hit me.

Well, first off I think it sounds fantastic. The first question that sprang to my mind was, how pure is the blood of Angelica's descendants? I'd imagine it would be kind of watered down (pardon the pun) over the centuries.
When is the story set? Why can't the land people just send in subs and kill the pesky sea people?
Ah, I said I'd not answer questions, but in case D's one gets out of hand: roughly the fourteenth century. Not much technology.
It sounds like it will be an amazing book. I can't wait! When will it be published? It seems like an age since Bareback came out.

Is it going to be historically accurate? I mean, I know obviously that it's fantastical, but apart from the fantastical elements, is 14th century England going to be the real 14th century England?

If it is illegal for a landsman and a deepswoman to breed, is it also illegal for a landswoman and a deepsman to breed?

How did Angelica come to be? Was she just a fluke?
I am not following your use of -man and -woman in this post. You have Angelica, a woman, called half landsman half deepsman, but then you mention deepswomen specifically. You also use king a lot, and I'm not sure if that's generic leader or actual king.

You also talk about landsmen breeding with deepswomen, like the other either isn't possible or isn't an issue.

The mermaid Metis -- can they breed with either group? (Legally and/or functionally.) Does it matter what percentage of each you are? Do you need to keep breeding in deepspeople, or is just the one ancestor enough? This will impact a great deal the question of rulers and bloodlines.

Are there deepspeople at every shore? Can they live on land? In fresh and salt water? Is the alliance holding from their part? From the landspeople's?

Is being a hybrid somehow visible? Again, can this visibility -- tails, maybe, if I read you right -- change over time, an extra one like a polydactyl cat, one fewer, longer, shorter, greener, pinker? Does it matter what the tail (or whatever) looks like? Do they breed true? Are there any (physical/physiological) negatives to being a hybrid? Can you use a chair if you have a tail?
It's coming out in March in the UK; the US, I'm not sure yet...
Oh, and 'deepsman' or 'landsman' can refer to either sex; it's a species delineator. That's probably just bad phrasing on my part. :)
So, what are the penalties for a deepsman breeding with a landswoman? It's the obvious alternative source of hybrids. If this is allowed, and these daughters of these unions then marry the kings, you shouldn't have problems with inbreeding. If unliscenced interbreeding between landspeople and deepspeople is forbidden, either way, then it should be put that way.

And who was the father of Angelica's children? A landsman, a deepsman, or another hybrid? Did her children marry each other, landspeople, or deepspeople? If the latter, do they become more like or more loyal to one side or another?

It sounds as if gender and mating conventions are a big part of this story. If so, you may want to say "landsfolk" and "deepsfolk" or some other gender-neutral term for the races, and keep "landsman" "landswoman" "deepsman" and "deepswoman" for when you need to talk about the specific genders, to avoid confusion.

Also, what is the motive for the deepspeople wanting to beseige Venice, and have hybrids rule over the landspeople? We can see the landspeople's need for access to the sea, but one would think that the deepspeople would be as indifferent to the landspeople sailing the surface of the sea as we are to clouds.

What is the overall interaction between landspeople and deepspeople? Is there some sort of trade? Or is Angelica some sort of bastard hybrid herself, with the hybrids interested in maintaining their own power, and controlling both landspeople and deepspeople?

And I'm not sure what the penalty is for distracting Slacktivites from Left Behind Friday...
All right, looking at this as an evolutionary biologist, and ignoring the obvious problems with interspecies viability....

It seems to me that your basic premise here is one of controlling access to mates. This is a major preoccupation of most species; oddly enough it usually works out in the reverse (dominant males trying to control access to fertile females in order to spread their own genes abundantly), while here it *seems* from the sketchy premise, it is a matter of dominant males trying to restrict access to their own genes, instead of trying to reproduce as prolifically as possible.

While this might make good political sense*, it is very much against biological nature. It will be interesting to see how this contrarian impulse will wreak havoc with the common mating strategies that have been worked out to maximize dominant male reproduction (e.g. polygyny, serial monogamy, mate guarding, infanticide, etc.) along with the well-documented universal success of females to "cheat" (anywhere from 10 - 50 percent of offspring, depending on species and system).

*Actually, it's a lousy political idea. Five centuries would be more than long enough to have ample demonstration of what happens when a royal family fails to produce an heir, or the heir dies in infancy, or is otherwise incompetent. And what about "spare" heirs? Are they castrated? If not, and all offspring except the heir aren't locked in iron underpants until marriage (and probably afterwards), you WILL have bastards. Many.

Also, are the females traded between courts? Why can't extra males, as well? These latter would solve any "inbreeding" problems, which are usually over-exaggerated by non-biologists anyways.

This just off the top of my head. Sorry to nit so much, but it's an intriguing premise, and I'm looking forward to it.

-- hapax
Personally, I have to wonder how the city-state Venice could be so incredibly stupid as to let its domination of the waves slip through its fingers.

Or, phrased differently, I wonder how other nations managed to get their hybrid kings and queens when they are all descended from just one woman. I mean, was there some rash of intermarrying for short-term political or economical gain and Venice didn't realise until too late that they were trading away bits and pieces of their naval might?
is it a treaty type situation the LF have with the DF, in essence "we LF welcome our new DF overlords, who will leave us alone if we put them in charge?"
How does this affect places like Hanover/Switzerland that are landlocked?
I too am picking up a "queen victoria was related to all the royal houses of europe and therefore the heir to the russian throne has hemophilia" feel, but how many regular LF/DF recognize the inbreeding problem affecting the English line? How are other royal houses responding?
Hmm. Questions/Nits that I would have over the premise:

I will assume that Angelica's history is somehow covered in the story. Does she have siblings? How did the nations of the world come to accept a two-tailed woman (or descendants) as ruler? Would not there have been some pressure for a fully human co-ruler at the very least? How do the deepsmen react to they hybrids? Are there treaties that they will also destroy any bastard children, or can such children find refuge in the water? Why can't full humans learn to speak the language of the deepsmen? Shouldn't the two races have cobbled together a pidgin language that lets traders and rulers interact without the need for someone who speaks Sea and Land separately? Are there rules about interbreeding in the royal families? (Do the DF have royalty?) If there aren't, how has the dual nature of the rulers been preserved? Why did Venice give up it's power and allow other nations to have hybrid rulers? I would have thought that given the alliance between DF and LF, Venice would simply have conquered all other sea-faring nations and made them into vassal-states.

Just before it catches on too much, I don't think I will use 'landsfolk', sorry - various reasons; a) it sounds American, yes I know 'folk' is an Anglo-Saxon word, but it has US connotations now, b) 'landsman' is a real word, which is useful, and c) People in that era did tend to say 'men' meaning people, so a gender-neutral word would be contextually inappropriate ... But thanks for the thought.
Well, I see a number of problems, but if you're not answering further plot questions, there's only so much we can speculate about - I'd say be sure to throw at least cursory answers to the above questions about breeding & lineage, and if you're going to sketch an alternate history, throw in enough extraneous detail with the explanations to answer the questions, but not so much that we lose interest. I'm thinking it would be cool to (for example) throw in a few historical anecdotes of reproductive accidents & the results, as a background and a way of handwaving any potential questions that arise - if you haven't done this already, that is.

If Benighted/Bareback was any indication, you'll do just fine. It sounds like a terrific premise - blending history & fantasy is always fun.

Also - I think slacktavistas have come to expect some measure of distraction from the source text in the course of the discussion. For something like this, I'm certainly glad to help in any way I can.

: )
Also, assuming that this other!Europe is the divided continent we all know, why don't the deepsmen have nations?

That's one of the things that often bothers me about fantasy: humans can have lots of kingdoms and empires that may or may not be at each other's throats all the time, but the non-humans are nearly always united in some way or the other.

Why would all the deepsmen accept Angelica and her descendants? Just because 'she can communicate with them'? But what if, for example, Angelica was, say, from the Mediterranean and the Mediterranean and North Sea deepsmen have a deeply rooted hatred for each other? Why would the North Sea ones listen to anything she has to say?

Then again... it's not exactly clear if Europe is still divided or not. 'The alliance between landsmen and deepsmen' suggests that they have united, but the 'making Venice strong' and 'any nation with a sea border' rather suggests that they haven't.
Also, why the need for a hybrid king?

Angelica's role seems more to be that of a translator and diplomat, not a leader. (Trying to prevent a feud between her father's people and her mother's people?)

If the LP and DP need to interact frequently (such as in trade) you'd need a large population of hybrids to act as translators and a diplomatic corps. Not a tiny, inbred family of kings. If they don't interact much, you have, again, a question of motive, why the DP would bother to blockade the LP and want hybrid rulers over the LP.

I'd expect the role of a hybrid to be something like "First Minister of Deepsland Commerce and Communication" rather than king to rule over the LP.

How do the hybrids maintain their power? To keep their position ruling the LP, they'd have to have something the DP want, in order to induce the DP to threaten the ports of the LP.

The LP don't seem like a threat to the DP - this is set long enough ago that there aren't submarines, and there is relatively little sea trade - nothing that would cause major oil or chemical spills that would harm the DP. You've set this early enough so that LP fishing is not a major threat to the fish population, threatening the DP's food source. This feels like a war between Nigeria and Kazakhstan - they have no reason to be in direct conflict.

Are the DP people, with human motives and needs? Or are they aliens, motivated by inhuman things?

The conflict between the LP and DP, and the need for hybrid interface, has gone on for centuries. The DP need a powerful motive to last that long.

The LP are fine, I can see the need for keeping ports open, although I'd expect to see massive efforts to bypass the blockade and the need for hybrid kings, such as building inland canals, more road development than there was historically, etc.

The premise - LP, DP, and hybrids who control the interaction - is good. I do like it, despite all these things.
I can understand why the DM would lay siege to Venice; it's mostly water anyway. I can also understand (sort of) that if a country has a navy the DM would consider them a threat. Is part of the peace that Angelica brokered dependent on trade between LM nations? There is a part of me that feels when the DM first showed up in the 9th century, the LM would have been frightened enough (yes, even the Vikings) to destroy their navies and ask the DM to take out any pirates (would there be pirates?), giving a tribute to the DM and rely solely on land routes for trade; this would shut the italians and portuguese (and again, even the Vikings) down pretty fast, I would think. And how about Byzantium? How would the crusades look, if the RCC decided the DM were more of a soul-saving choice than saving Jerusalem?
How would a 9th century surface navy be a threat to the DP? LP war at that time was fought on land - navies, such as they were, were used to transport soldiers, not for dirct combat with each other. When they did come into contact, a ship might be broken up and sink, but this was rare, and it's hard to see how warfare on the surface would be a threat to an undersea community.

Another question - did the LP know about the DP before the seige of Venice?

What kind of life do the DP live - are they throughout the ocean, or do they only live in the shallow areas along the coast? And are they completely confined to the undesea, like fish or whales, or are they somewhat amphibious, interacting directly with land?

What is land like to the DP? Is it like the ocean deeps or outer space is for us, practically inaccessable and very alien?

What is the DP state of technology? Are they advanced beyond the LP, or is there a parity of technology, with them developing at the same pace, in parallel? Can they threaten communities along the coast directly, and farther inland or are they limited to things like chopping holes in the bottom of ships?
would the hybrids be coopted by the Church? how would that look?would the DM be christian at all?
Do hybrids breed with one another or are they sterile like mules (or ligers)?

Presumably the Deepsmen would know about and be in contact with non-Eurasian continents. Does this come into play?

Do hybrids rule in the oceans? If not, is that because the Deepsmen are more powerful than the Landsmen? Or do hybrids rule the land-proximal ocean countries?

Do the Deepsmen feel about islands as the Landsmen do about lakes? Inland seas? Do they get out of the water much, in some sort of water-filled land-craft? Are they salk- or fresh-water creatures?

Without fire (ie oxydation in air), what do they Deepsmen use for light and energy? (Thermal vents? Solid sodium or other exothermic reactions?) They might have different lighting needs but some source of chemical energy seems requisite for a civilization to advance.

What about communication? Sound travels differently through water. I'd imagine the Deepsmen are more sensitive to vibrations. I'm also curious about the anatomy of the hybrids in terms of breathing and sensory organs.

Does "king" mean "king" or can it also mean "queen"?
Are the hybrid-kings in competition with each other, as related rulers were at that time in Europe, or do they control as a coordinated group?

If they control as a group, how has that affected the LP culture - are there still different nations? Are there still different LP languages?

The hybrids have power because they control the interactions between DP and LP - how do they control inland LP, and are they interested in things like controlling the 90% of 14th century Europe that was starving peasants?

If you're setting this in the 14th century, you've got the Black Death working its way through Europe? That creates a huge shift in demographics, with 1/4 to 1/2 of the LP population dying. Does this still happen? How does it affect your story if it does? If it doesn't happen, why not? Do the hybrids or DP have a way to control LP disease? You can't do 14th century Europe without addressing the Plague, unless you skip the timeline entirely, and just make it vaguely Middle Ages.

Does hybrid control limit itself to Europe, or does it extend to the costal communities of Africa and Asia? What about the Americas? If it does continue to the Americas, does that give LPs in Europe knowledge of the Americas at this time?

Can DP travel faster than LP along the coast? Do they involve themselves in LP trade, as merchants or middlmen? Does this affect the interaction of inland LP nations? Does access to a port become more or less important to inland nations?

What is the population size of the DP? Are there enough to control all ports simultaniously, or do they mostly leave ports alone, using the threat of closing this or that port for their political leverage? Do they actively control the ports, perhaps taxing all cargos, or the like, or do they mostly leave them alone, except for when they need to exert political influence?

Do different DP groups interact with different LP nations/cities, or are they a united force?

Do LP have any political holds on the DP, or is the threat all one way - DP threatening to close LP ports?

Do the LP have technology different from 14th century Europe desgined to facilitate interaction with the DP - a need that wasn't there in the actual 14th century?
Was "Angelica" a name that was in use during the 9th century? Is it likely or possible that someone of that time would have been named that? (I don't ask rhetorically; I honestly don't know.)
A few points:

The Deepsmen can be assumed to have a comprehensive geography of the sea, just like Europeans of that era understood the confines of Europe. First European contact with the Americas happened in the late 15th century -- it's quite likely that Venice (or another "favoured" nation) would have acquired help to make an expedition earlier.

More generally, Deepsmen-assisted trade would be much faster and safer than classical trade. Would the coastal nations have an even greater concentration of wealth -- especially in exotics like silks and spices -- than happened historically? How would that have affected the balance of European power?

Genghis Khan is notable example of an empire-builder who didn't rely on the oceans one whit. How would the land-based Mongol Empire -- which reached into Eastern Europe at its peak by the end of the 13th Century -- relate to the power of the coastal nations?

Landlocked nations would be nearly bereft of benefits from this Deepsman relationship. In contrast, the Roman Catholic Church likely would have embraced the opportunity for power early on. Would this divide prompt a Protestant-like Reformation a century or so earlier? If the Catholic church interdicts Deepsman-breeding through dogma, would the budding-Protestant nations be hotbeds of Deepsman-free-love?

Relating specifically to England, how did the Norman Conquest in 1066 transpire? It's early enough that the natural right of Deepsman rule would not have been established. The indigenous peoples would certainly not have Deepsman-relationships.

Presuming that the Normans (or equivalents) were "in bed" with the Deepsmen and the Celtic peoples were not, would there be even more strife between England, Wales, and Scotland? Would Scotland have so willingly accepted Edward's overlordship in the late 13th century, leading to the Scottish wars?

In a pre-nationalist Europe, countries were held together via family ties among the nobility. At the same time, you propose that Deepsman breeding is highly controlled, necessarily leading to smaller Royal families. Is there a secondary class of powerful landowners, or do the royalty try to manage larger estates than they did historically?

In the intervening centuries, have any Deeps-brids joined the Catholic Church? Is the Pope, who ruled large Papal Estates at the time, a hybrid himself? Have there been any concentrated efforts to convert the Deeps?
Relating specifically to England, how did the Norman Conquest in 1066 transpire?

Come to think of it, didn't William's success depend a lot upon his (unexpected) ability to transport horses across the Channel? With Deepsman allies, is the Channel that much of a protection to the British isles anymore?

Was the attack on Venice the first awareness landsmen had of deepsmen? Otherwise, they surely would have had significant impact on the Roman / Carthaginian struggles over the Mediterranean.

Not to mention the Islamic conquests, which made the Mediterranean a "Muslim lake."

And what about Islam? We've mentioned Christianity, but Islam was, if anything, much more hostile to powers that were seen as rivalling God's. How does a self-consciously "desert people" (even if long removed from their Arabian roots) cope with the sudden shift in power to the sea?

This is fun. It's rather like Novik's Temeraire books, exploring the ramifications of access to effective air power (dragons) during the Napoleonic wars.

But poor Praline is probably getting sorry she asked. Or else she's going to sic Mika on this last round of nits...

-- hapax
Running with hapex's religion theme:

In the 900s, Europe was not fully Christianized. So how wold the DP affect the spread of Christianity? They might not make a difference in mainland Europe, but I could easily see the British Isles remaining pagan, or practicing Irish monastic Christianity separately from the heriarchy of the Roman church. Scandinavia might also remain pagan.

And what religions, if any, do the DP practice? Would it be viable competition for the LP religions in the real world?

Do LP see DP as fully human, and vice-versa? Is Christian salvation seen as something only for LP, or something for both types?

Do DPs become Christian? If so, how do rites like baptism, anointing with oil, and the cerimonial use of burning incense and candles work in their practice?

Do DPs become Muslim? If so, how do rites like the requirement to wash with running water before prayer work, when they are constantly submerged?

If DPs have their own religions, what sort of rites are used underwater, and if LP want to convert to DP religions, how do the rites translate to practice on land?

And where do hybrids fit into the religious scheme? The spread of Christianity often involved political leaders converting for political reasons, and their followers nominally converting with them. If the hybrids are the political leaders, did they start out following DP or LP religions, and would they be involved in the political conversions?

Catholics also had some pretty strict rules about incest, and degrees of relationship. They made exceptions for rulers, but is the close relationship of the hybrids close enough that the church would balk - marrying siblings, perhaps, rather than cousins?
A comment about the interaction with other continents: we seem to be treating, as one poster said, the DP as unitary, although we know the LP certainly aren’t. Also, we seem to be treating the seas as unitary, as if DP could as easily cross the Atlantic as (say) Genghis Khan could the steppes. Depending on how the DP function, they may not be able to cross the Atlantic. Obviously, if they simply float at a level within a few hundred feet of the surface, it might work. If not, however, if they’re in any way dependent upon the bottom, crossing the major oceans is going to be a problem. So that may solve the issue of interaction with the Americas and why the Venetians didn’t land in San Salvador in 1258. (Note: not suggesting that crossing the steppes was easy, but it was certainly do-able. It might not be physically do-able for DP to cross the Atlantic with their technology in the period in which the story is set—-obviously, the author has to determine that.)

Now for my questions. I’m wondering about communication and specifically what it is Angelica contributes. Is it simply that they have different articulatory apparatus, so that, imagining the DP using something like clicks (like dolphins) to communicate, it would be difficult for a human to reproduce the appropriate sounds? Likewise, the human articulatory apparatus is all about modifying the airstream using a set of articulators. So presumably part of the DP's problem is that they don’t have those articulators or any other body parts that can imitate those sounds? (For an example of the latter, see parrots, who manage to produce humanlike sounds without humanlike vocal apparatus.) If that is the case, then Angelica and her descendants are useful just as long as no one invents an artificial means for one group to create the sounds or signs used by the other.

And what is it that her descendants have that allows communication on both ends? And would all necessarily have it? It would seem, if you’re going to allow for hybrids that, say, if airstream-producing lungs are required for this cross-species communication (even if the lungs aren’t the way the being absorbs oxygen), then not all hybrids will necessarily have them. To take an analogy, mate a beagle to a lab, and you MIGHT get a dog that fetches or you MIGHT get a dog that keeps its nose to the ground. Maybe you’ll even get a dog that does both. But there’s no guarantee. And both beagle and lab have within them the potentialities for fetching and for scenting. So related question: what about the descendants who don’t have the characteristics that enable them to facilitate communication?

Alternatively, is the mentality, the cognitive structure* of both groups, so vastly different that communication is close to impossible without someone who has access to both types of cognition? Science fiction writer Stanley G. Weinbaum did some playing with this concept in some of his stories. However, in his case, the species were sufficiently different cognitively that most of the time they didn’t succeed in communicating. This solution would require that the hybrids have the ability to handle two patterns of brain organization so different at such a very basic level that a member of neither group alone could even hope to attempt communication, even with a well-meaning communication partner from across the divide. That would solve the problem of why hybrids are needed--humans will just never have the DPs' cognitive structures and vice versa.
*Yeah, slactivistas, sorry about the use of the term “cognitive” so soon after we’ve all seen what L&J do with it. But it’s OK. I’m qualified (whips out badge, which reads, "Agent 064973-and-a-half, licensed to use "cognitive" in a sentence"). And I’m using it correctly.
Have I got a history tid-bit for you.

Okay, so the Third Crusade was a complete disaster that only managed to destroy the Byzantine Empire financially by having the Crusaders pillage it.

The Crusade started out in Venice, who agreed to give the crusaders ships in exchange for sacking the island of Zara which recently slipped from the bonds of alliance with Venice. With an army of fish people on their side, no need for Crusaders, no Third Crusades, and the Byzantine Empire survives. This all happens in the 13th Century so it fits right into the timeline.

Also may I recommend that the Deepmen require something from the surface, like land for agriculture. You could have semi-sunken cities that are artificially below sea-level and flooded with water, but outside of town are well irrigated farms on dry land. This would explain why the Deepmen come into conflict with the Landmen on the surface, and pick Venice for the union of the Landmen and Deepmen culture, because the flooded city is something they are used to.
Several questions rise from the turgid depths of my mind (cue in sombre dirge - BTW, congrats, praline ;)

What are the deepsmen? Some marine mammal, I presume? Perhaps a marine offshoot of genus homo? An intelligent, bipedal offshoot of the porpoise or dolphin wouldn't turn me on, I'm afraid. Ditto for an intelligent, bipedal offshoot of the seal. Would be great to talk with, no doubt, great to bounce ideas off, great to argue with - but my tastes do not point in that direction.

What is their maximum operating depth? Since their first appearance is set in the Mediterranean, I presume that sets the limits. So no bottom-of-the-Atlantic or bottom-of-the-Pacific cities?

What precisely enabled Angelica's parents to interact in so fertile a manner? (In the LoTR and the Silmarillion, it was the (subcreated) fact that Elves and Men were both genus Homo, and could be deeply attracted to each other.) Is Angelica's father a lovelorn sailor and her mother an equally lovelorn deepwoman? Is that the reason for the ban on deepwomen mating with landsmen? "We've already had one nightmare, when we didn't know whether we were coming or going, and we don't want that happening again!"

What is the casus belli for the war with Venice? Hand-waving won't do it, if you want me to buy your book. What sort of reasons are adduced for the cease-fire and the resultant peace?

What effects would the discovery of such a huge community of marine genus Homo have on religion?

And last but not least (for this moment), what European and other myth, legend and folklore are you basing this on? The Selkies of Scotland? The Mermaids of the Grimm Brothers and English folklore? Other sources?


Wesley Parish
How far down the European aristocracy does the hybrid-control go? Europe didn't just have rule by "kings" in the 10th-14th centuries, it had the entire feudal system, with some "lower" titled rulers being independant of kings, or nearly so.

Are you doing a straight replacement of historical rulers with hybrid rulers who have similar policies for LP control, but also the DP connection, or is the difference in personality going to be significant? It's a tricky line. With several centuries of hybrid control, if they're very different from the historical rulers, you'll have difficulty make the "it's 14th century Europe" believable to people who know history, but if they're too similar, then there is the question of "what's the point" of having identical rulers with two tails instead of two legs.

Most alternate history I've read tend to set the story around the time of the "departure" from real history, to avoid that confusion. Or else there is historical fantasy, set in a world that vaguely resembles the historical one, but that doesn't get to close to the parts of history people know.

I'm wondering how the story proper can be about 14th century rulers, when the timeline diveges with a different ruling class starting in the 900s, without having half the book being background to understand how this history is different from ours, which would make for a slow start.

And you're probably ready to track me down and kill me at this point, for all of this! I really am fascinated by the world you're creating, and I want to know a lot about how it works. It would take a multi-volume epic on the scale of some of the Turtledove alternate histories to get all my questions answered!
It would take a multi-volume epic on the scale of some of the Turtledove alternate histories to get all my questions answered!

Too true! Just as a point of info, as a lot of people seem to be focusing on this, the book is basically alternative history. The 9th century stuff is background, an adjunct to the real plot; history is assumed to have diverged from reality at that point. I referred to it here primarily because it was a way of giving the scenario without spoilers.

On the historical stuff, I'll bear it in mind as much as possible, but I fear that length and pacing considerations may overwhelm at least some of it, especially as this is alternate history ... but I'll try to keep an eye on it as far as I can make it relevant to the plot. Just giving a heads-up in case anyone feels disappointed when the history turns out to be primarily story background.

Do keep the points coming, this is all useful.
Since I already brought up Mika, what do the cats think about these fishy people?

Not entirely a silly question, actually. In a pre-industrial society, human relationships with animals are fundamental to both the economy and self-understanding. You're postulating a society with non-human beings who are treated as sentient equals (maybe, as several of us have suggested, with "souls.") What impact does this have on human understanding and use of other beings?

Indeed, now that I think about it, are the DP even mammalian? They must be, to interbreed, without some MASSIVE handwaving. Right there, that would impact upon the amount of sea habitat they could effectively utilize (the coasts, and the surfaces, essentially) and would shed light upon their interaction with the LP (e.g., do they need to come ashore to breed or raise their young?)

I suppose this would work if the DP were, say, reptilian or ichthian as well (look at the conflict between humans and sea turtles. Now imagine ARMED sea turtles) but it would make the whole hybridization issue much more difficult to swallow, let alone fundamental cognitive differences (what does "motherhood" mean to a salmon?)

-- hapax
At the risk of being redundant, I really didn't have a problem with this premise except for the language--landsmen and deepsmen. Than you switch it up and say "deepswoman." I know that historically man is considered the norm, and therefore can encompass both gengers, but if that is the case, then never say woman at all. It is more confusing than helpful.

But why not "folk?" In most folktales I've read, there are mermaids and mermen and are collectively called merfolk. I don't see it as particularly American.

Honestly, truly, I could buy 99 percet of your premise, I was only tripped up by the nomenclature. That's saying a lot about its importance.
I'm not seeing what power the land people have over the sea people. In the reverse, yes--if one is crossing water, it's water all the way to the next shore, and if there's reason to interfere, then yes.

But if the water people cannot survive on land, about all the land types have to do is back up a couple hundred yards and yell, "Neener, neener, neener, you can't reeeeeeach meeeeee...."
But why not "folk?" In most folktales I've read, there are mermaids and mermen and are collectively called merfolk. I don't see it as particularly American.

I refer the Honourable Member to Clause 3 in the disclaimers. :-) It may not sound too American to you, but your blog locates you in Michigan, which suggests that you ARE American - so what would sound 'too American' to English ears is something you can no more judge than I could judge what sounds 'too English' to an American. (If I'm wrong, I beg your pardon...)

(I'm delighted you like the premise, though, so please don't think I don't appreciate the comments.)

In any case, Americanism is only part of it. I'm not using 'deepsfolk' for a number of reasons that I'd rather not list, on a point of courtesy: if I go into all the ways I think it would be wrong, I risk sounding as if I'm calling Ursula's kind suggestion stupid. Which it wasn't, just unsuitable for a book she has, through no fault of her own, not been able to read. To my ears - and those are the ears that weighed up the sound of every sentence - 'deepsfolk' clangs, so I can't use it. It was a reasonable idea, and I'm sure it would work admirably in another book, just not this one.

However, I take the point about gender confusion. Hopefully, the book itself is clearer, and my fine copy-editors, I trust, will identify any confusing sentences that I've missed. I'll ask them to keep an eye out.
Yep, I'm an American. Guilty as charged. :-)

And bless those copyeditors. What would we do without them?

If I may ask another question? And please don't take this the wrong way. Isn't it rather late in the process (final edits) to discover a hole in your premise? I test my premise out on people early in the process so I have plenty of time to fix my many mistakes.
This is not the first time I am testing out the premise, just the first time I'm doing it online. Testing the premise online is a special case; putting info out before the book was in production would be discourteous to my agent and publishers, who I feel deserve first look (showing it to my friends is one thing, but publicising it is my publishers' turf, not mine), plus publicising the idea raises the risk of somebody nicking it and finishing their book before I do. So I've tried the premise out before now, just in private. This is for the final polish.

Most of the major issues people have raised here are questions that the story already answers; what I'm concerned about is detail work, the kind of eccentric questions that apply to individuals. With Bareback, I got a lot of 'what ifs', most of which I addressed before the book came out, but there was still the odd thing - one reviewer complained, for instance, that I hadn't addressed how nomadic tribes dealt with moon nights. True, I hadn't, as the subject wasn't relevant to the story, and I might have decided it wasn't worth addressing if it had come up pre-publication (there were some questions that I decided to ignore, as any attempt to answer them would be off-topic info-dumps that would throw off the story's pace) - but I could have at least considered including an explanation if the subject had come up sooner.

So this is an attempt to cover as much ground as possible by asking a lot of people, rather than a post in anticpation of discovering any really major holes. It's a final go-round for the sake of thoroughness, rather than a first test.
I can see how "folk" might sound American, and therefore not appropriate. I was actually thinking of it as the English version of the German "Volk", for "people" only sounding less modern.

But then, my brain doesn't track language in the normal way. To my ear, "folk" sounds Germanic, "folks" sounds American.

I also wasn't thinking in terms of accurate 14th century English, since I asssume you aren't going fully to the language of Chaucer. Although it might be fascinating to try!

As long as it's clear in the text whether you're talking about male-men or people-men, it should be fine. Although the use of "man" as gender neutral does tend to get me to drop out of a text a bit, that's my idiosyncracy, and not something for you to write for.

English does give a lot of possible constructions for nation/people of the nation - England/English, France/French, China/Chiniese etc.

I'm also curious about how Angelica learned to speak Venitian Italian (or Church Latin?) well enough to conduct diplomacy, since you describe her as "walking out of the water" in the middle of the conflict. Also how she established her diplomatic credibility, both as a woman in a highly patriarchal time and as someone with no ties to the LP aristocracy, in a time when class status was all-important. How did she get her foot (flipper?) in the door?
Oh, I see now why you wouldn't want to do this kind of test any earlier in the process. I hope it's going well for you and that we aren't getting too far off topic.
You would not believe how long of a comment I had written out earlier today when my computer crashed. Crazy long.

Perhaps the crash was fortuitous, though, because when I rebooted the computer and reread your premise statement, I think the assumptions I was making about your premise were incorrect, or at least not well founded.

So, on a plain reading, your premise seems to be that Angelica's decendants became kings of the coastal nations of Europe, because without a hybrid to negotiate with the deepsmen coastal cities would be attacked by the deepsmen. The hybrid royal families ruthlessly destroy any bastard hybrid childern, on land, in order to prevent usurpers.

My problems with that are twofold:
1. Why aren't there lots of hybrids living with the deepsmen? The deepsmen have everything to gain from raising their own hybrids to break the hybrid kings' monopoly on interaction with the landsmen. In trade goods, the deepsmen have a lot to gain and a lot less to offer. By trading with the landsmen, they can get ceramics, glass, bronze, wax, pitch, all sorts of items that can be useful underwater but cannot be produced underwater. All they have to offer in exchange is, what, shellfish? Sealskins? A quick fix for this problem would be something biological that prevents hybrids from living at sea indefinitely, such as a malfunctioning salt gland causing death by dehydration.

2. How does the Church feel about it? If a hybrid baby is left on the doorstep of the church, do they turn that baby over to be killed, or provide sanctuary? A lot depends on the Church's attitude toward the deepsmen, whether or not they would accept the hybrid kings. Are the hybrid kings Christian, and do the devout among them join the priesthood? If so, would the Church be a refuge for bastard hybrids? If the hybrid kings aren't Christian, wouldn't the Church rally the landlocked nations to drive them out?

When I was typing up my first comment, my solution to these problems was to assume that the hybrids kings were the leaders not just of landsmen, but of dual nations that combined the abovewater and underwater coastal populations. Angelica's triumph was not to negotiate a truce between sovereign landsmen and deepsmen nations, but to convince the landsmen to become vassals of deepsmen nations led by hybrid kings. The deepsmen of these hybrid nations are the real winners, gaining all sorts of valuable goods that make them exponentially richer and more powerful than the "sea-locked" deepsmen nations. The hybrid kings therefore command enough loyalty from their deepsmen knights that they enforce the ban of bastard children at sea. Therefore it would be natural for a deepswoman to leave her hybrid child on a shoreline for a landsman to rescue, since the landsmen are second class in the hybrid nation and therefore less enthusiastic about enforcing the kings' ban.

It all seemed so logical to me that I assumed that was what you were going for, but when I read it over again, I think I was right the first time.

A few more random points: are the hybrids immune to plague, or vulnerable? If immune, do the landsmen accuse them of spreading plague and start a pogrom? If vulnerable, do they retreat to the sea to avoid the fleas?

Perhaps cross-breeding is very rarely successful. Maybe a viable hybridization requires a chromosomal mutation, and hybrids born without the mutation die from hideous birth defects, but hybrids with the mutation breed true. Then enforcing the ban on bastards would be much less important.
The "no-communication without a hybrid" thing bugs me. I'm starting to assume you mean no *official* communication, because if I'm Joe Landsman and I want to know where the big schools of fish are, and y'know, I can get my hands on some lovely beads or plates or whatever that lovely local Jane Deespman nearby wants... Well, y'know, I bet that given enough time we could figure some combination of pointing and waving that would get the job done, no matter what our cognitive/vocal/tail-count differences were. And if such an arrangement were to last for a while (say, a few generations), presumably we'd get some pretty sophisticated sign language going at some point. Humans who grow up speaking sign language seem to use the same language areas of their brain as do 'vocal' humans, so there's no reason some kind of sign language pidgin couldn't evolve and become its own full fledged language within a generation or two. No more need for hybrid translators (though I *can* see how a translator would be able to manipulate their position into a kingship, assuming the LM/DM relationship was important enough to each.
I keep thinking about the religious aspect of this. If the DM are incorporated into the medieval catholic church (they would almost have to be, given the divine right of kings, right?) then surely any landlocked nation is automatically second-tier because they don't get to have any of the DM genes?

I think the DM appearance on the LM culture would almost be like Aliens From Other Planets appearing on our doorstep today; how would we justify their existence, their purpose? How, really would it affect us? Obviously, any treaty-making process would really only be necessary for those entities that have space-going capabilities, right?

Thanks for sharing all of this with us, by the way.
Also, given there are so many countries (on land, and possibly at sea too), many of whom won't agree on the time of day if you lock them in a room with just one clock... zealous bans on news lines of hybrids are bound to be inconsistently enforced on a continent wide level. The French (or someone) are bound to take a very laisse faire attitude (perhaps especially in the more isolated rural regions) you're going to see a lot more contact and interbreeding than you'd think (plus for all the reasons Hapax listed)
Now, I could have sworn I posted yesterday. Did Blogger eat it? There was something about whether hybrids could ride horses or not, and what implication that had for the quality of roads in England. I don't remember what else.

I think the thing that would bother me the most would be if the deepsmen had technology that would be impossible or unnecessary for an aquatic race. Writing, for example. Underwater, there are no clay tablets to write on, no ink, no paper, no charcoal. So how would writing develop? I think the best you could hope for would be a system of petroglyphs.
Speaking as moderately knowledgeable martial artist, I'd be very interested to know how combat works. A lot of this depends on the details of Deepsman and hybrid physiology (and technology), but...

Fighting underwater is going to be *very* different from fighting on land. Ranged weapons won't work very well; it takes an awful lot of force to throw something for any distance underwater, let alone hard enough to do damage when it hits. Maybe something akin to a crossbow could be used as an early sort of harpoon gun, but I'm thinking probably not. Similarly, it's hard to swing something with any sort of damaging force underwater, so you probably won't see much in the way of swords, clubs... or shields. Being underwater would also make combat much more three-dimensional than fighting on the surface. That means that Deepsman fighting styles are likely to rely heavily on close combat, with a heavy emphasis on positioning and mobility. Their main weapons are probably spears and knives, though something like a weighted net could be useful if you could get above your opponent.

This also does interesting things to the concept of a cavalry. If the Deepsmen can move quickly underwater, they probably don't need mounts; but if they're slower than most sea animals, then a friendly animal could really help them in battle. (You could hit someone a lot harder with your spear if you were being towed by a friendly dolphin, for example.)

The "laying siege" bit is interesting in that light, too. A ship in the harbor would be an easy target, but a ship at sea with a good wind behind it could be moving at a pretty good clip. If the Deepsmen don't swim all that fast, catching a ship at sea basically *requires* some sort of mount, especially if you're hauling the kind of tools I think you'd need to sink a ship from below. Smugglers and the like would have a *very* strong incentive to invent faster ships, and probably ships that ride high in the water as well. Both qualities would be helpful in avoiding DM attention/interference.

On land, the presence of a tail (or tails) would have interesting effects on your martial arts as well. Depending on how large/long/heavy they are, and how much muscular control the Hybrids have over them, they could allow you to lean forward in a way that a normal human simply couldn't do without losing their balance. With enough muscular control of the tail, a hybrid could do a very effective lunge without moving their feet (or at least, not moving them much). If the tails are reasonably strong and dexterous (and long enough to reach the ground), then it would be nearly impossible for a human to shove a hybrid backwards.

If the Deepsmen can breathe air, even temporarily, then they're going to find that fighting on the surface is *very* different from what they're used to.

This could also affect the perception of "normal" posture: if the tails are even moderately heavy, then hybrids would probably be more comfortable standing in a way that leans noticeably more forward than humans do. This could easily become a sign of nobility; someone who leans forward would be perceived as having a "noble carriage". (I'm picturing fashions that imitate the presence of the tails, as well. Some of them are quite funny; but it's the image of webbed calfskin gloves that really does it for me.) By the same token, someone who keeps their spine straight and their head up -- what we consider good posture -- would perceived as carrying himself like a commoner.

All that assumes that I'm reading you correctly, that the Hybrids have tails in addition to legs. If they have tails *instead* of legs, then that will *radically* change their stance, stepping, and mobility; and those are the foundation of *any* non-missile fighting style.

Finally, on the subject of breeding: if the DM can't breathe air, then pretty much all first-generation Hybrids would have to be conceived near the surface of the water, where both parties could breathe. This is probably also true if the DM have a limited tolerance for breathing air; nobody is going to feel very amorous if they're slowly starting to suffocate. (Unless maybe they're doing it for the Greater Good. "Stare back at the sea and think of UnderEngland." ..?) Either way, that would create a natural limitation on the number of illegitimate Hybrids who needed to be executed. Of course, if the Deepsmen can stay on land indefinitely, then the problem simply... pardon me... evaporates.
I guess my main questions are--

1. What is it about the deepsmen that makes it absolutely necessary to negotiate with them or else? What is the source of their power over landsmen? Or is it that nations that work with them have an advantage over nations that don't? And if so, what is that advantage?

2. How easily can land and sea people mate anyway? Is it possible that the reduced number of hybrids is not just due to tight controls on such breeding, but because a successful pregnancy is rare enough in itself? And are hybrids fertile or sterile?

3. Is the deepsman communication perhaps telepathic in nature? This could explain why the ability to communicate would be a rare gift and also why 'pigdin' communication would be harder to work out. It could also explain why the deepsman are so formidable--an army that can communicate with thoughts would be a powerful army indeed.
The deadline approaches! But I'm tapped out for ideas. Good luck with the next round of editing.

I think what I forgot to say was, thank you for letting us participate!
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