Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Worldbuilding Wednesday: Basement!Narnia

Wherein I take an hour or two to expand a concept of mine and see how far I can take it. I have something like 50 pages of story ideas (just the ones I've sorted, moreover) and this will be an exercise in seeing how much potential they have. It's all basically stream of consciousness, thrown out as it occurs to me, with only some polishing at the end to make sure that everything is grammatically correct and I didn't leave any sentences incomplete.

This one is a little unusual in that there are some parts that I've already figured out beforehand, so this isn't solely comprised of stuff that I came up with in a 1-2 hour brainstorming session. I also did most of the number-crunching outside of this session, and then went back and edited where appropriate. 

There is a basement somewhere. An apartment complex, say. You go to the basement, and there are stairs leading down to another level. And another. And another. It keeps going on for a long, long time., and the levels get weirder and bigger but the urban environment never actually stops being a thing. Think Basement!Narnia, except that it's a bunch of rooms and stuff. From its brief discussion on reddit, it's been compared to Narnia crossed with House of Leaves and Neverwhere crossed with City of Angles.

There's this whole world down there, with cultures and beings that have adapted to this environment. The deeper that you go, the more that you undergo a time dilation effect to get that Narnia time effect. If 1.1 seconds pass in the level below you for every second that passes on your level, then 3.8 hours would pass one hundred levels down for every second that passed in the first, "real world" level and 37.75 years would pass by for every day you spent in the surface world. If the building is sixty years old and the Basement World has been here for that whole time, then 826,725 years have passed at the bottom. 

The time dilation will probably play some tricks with the light though. I should keep that in mind. 

There are pipes and electricity and such, but the building doesn't have an atrocious utilities bill because the water and electricity is coming from below. In fact, the building has a surprisingly low utilities bill, because it's leeching off of the resources below. Kadmij of reddit suggested modeling the system after a Gabriel's Horn, so we'll see how that goes. How exactly it works will probably never be figured out, but there will still be ways to make use of This Thing That We Don't Understand. 

"Down" is good and "Up" is bad. There are bad things Up Above-- let's call them ghouls. I'm leaning toward the idea that some mad wizard made the building or at least is responsible for the Basement World but when said wizard went to reach the bottom-most level something went wrong and ze never got there. Maybe there was a whole group of them that went down, and yada yada, they bred (they refused to go back up until they'd gotten to the bottom, or maybe they couldn't) and now you've got ghouls. 

We'll get back to ghouls in a moment. What else is living down here? Things that would be considered pests, for one. Rats. Spiders. Not sure how very many bats would get down here, so let's leave them out of this even though they've been in a number of Magical Underground World stories. Cats? Maybe. Snakes? Lizards? Also maybe. But the rats are the most important ones, because they're the ones with dexterity in their paws. The cats might be polydactyl though, so they'd also be useful. Regardless, for now we will be referring to the lot of them as rats.

But how are they intelligent? And how do they communicate? Maybe both of these can be answered with the idea: Magic. Specifically, there's some sort of magic that's affecting the mind. Or the Basement World has a mind, and when you are in the Basement World you are connected to it. The thinking beings here are sort of... running on the Basement Mind's hardware, and they are able to communicate telepathically with each other because to some extent they are islands of consciousness rising out of the same extended sea of subconscious mind. 

The rats and such are getting an intelligence boost because of this connection. So are the ghouls. The boost gets smaller as brain size scales up (and maybe it has to be a centralized nervous system for maximum efficiency, so spiders are only as intelligent as, say, surface world dogs or something like that) so ghouls are not quite to humans as humans are to rats, despite the rats having human intelligence. They are still incredibly intelligent, however. They live in the higher levels (let's say that their domain goes down to and includes the twenty-fifth level), and the only reason that the rats have been able to hold off the ghouls is because they have such a time advantage. If it takes a group of ghouls a day to organize an assault or to devise a plan then the rats down on the one hundredth level (which may be the very bottom) have three and a half years of planning themselves. 

And the rats are still only barely hanging on

It doesn't help that a brown rat is less than a foot long, sans tail, and even if ghouls have stunted growth they're still at least four times that size; the ghouls aren't just smart, they're also really big. But then, our main protagonist is a human. So she's big too. That should help. 

Speaking of which, this setting is just right for making a Girl Underground story, with bonus points for literalness.

Anyway, however she ends up getting down there, her arrival is seen as a demonic incursion. Besides the fact that she doesn't look too different from a ghoul, she's coming from Above. I'm thinking about her being called the High Queen, which is very Narnia but in the symbolism of the rats below it's akin to calling someone the Antichrist. And so she shall be. Forget the ghouls. They might be a problem but they won't be the biggest problem, even though they might look it at first. Our protagonist is going to eventually going to play a subversive role in the society of the Basement World, flipping the present social order over on its head. Hopefully we can keep this from going Dances with Rats or Mighty Humie if this isn't presented as an unambiguous good. To at least some points of view, she's really going to live up to being an Antichrist equivalent. 

Anyhow, as the High Queen, as some sort of demon, the first friends that she makes are going to be very strange. The Basement World's versions of demon-worshipers and diabolists, most likely. What do you do when you want to save the galaxy but the Jedi want to kill you and only the Sith will be your friends?

If the Basement World is responsible for making the rats intelligent then they can't stay so outside of it. If our protagonist has to retreat to the surface for a time and brings any of her friends with her then she's going to have a very sad time.

The Basement World is a freaking maze. There is a reason that the ghouls' ancestors were able to get lost down here on their way to the bottom. Maybe... Maybe the Basement World doesn't want them there. Or something like that. But by the time that they were able to descend very far, the rats had already become sapient. Or maybe the Basement World didn't push them to defend against the ghouls, they just did that of their own volition because they didn't want to give up what they had and the ghouls hadn't put on a particularly nice show to begin with.

As you descend the levels, things get weirder. The Basement World becomes more of a living organism. The carpet turns into a fungus, at first something thin and moss-like but in the lowest levels so thick and tall that you have mushroom jungles (at least from the small perspectives of the rats). The walls slowly heal after being damaged, so tunnels in the deeper levels have to be constantly maintained, and maybe the pipes seem to be arteries and run with something like blood instead of water. Maybe there are also table trees that grow chair fruits or something.

Glass people. Or at least living glass of some sort. Glass that grows, whether it's intelligent or just a resource.

The rats are tapping into the electrical lines of the Basement World but they also use steam power. Electricity is much harder for them to work with but often worth it.

The stairways are heavily defended. The rats can travel through tunnels and vents too but the ghouls can only go through the stairways because they're so big. Each stairway is like a fortress, and whenever there is an attack the very first thing that the guards do is send a message down to the lower levels. Sometimes the rats send expeditions to contested levels in an attempt to push back the ghouls. These are always dangerous affairs and often end in disaster because the ghouls are so much bigger and so much more intelligent, but they are necessary in order to try to maintain breathing space.

The ghouls can communicate telepathically like everyone else. They might also have their own language for the purpose of speaking without the rats understanding, if telepathy is broadcast-style. The protagonist is not super-smart, by the way, because the process of fully adapting to the call of the Basement Mind is something that takes place over generations.

Ants are a thing. About as intelligent as dogs, and used as pack animals. An ant can carry 500 milligrams, and your average iron nail is 1-1.5 grams (speaking of which, iron nails should also grow from stuff). An individual ant may not be able to carry much, but imagine a whole convoy of them going single-file through the tunnels, from one level to another, carrying a respectable amount of iron between them. Or food-- the equivalent of a whole loaf of bread could be carried by a thousand ants without a problem. I wonder how big the rats could breed their ants before you got diminishing returns on carrying capacity. The ants might also be used in the cultivation of the fungal fields. 

Yeah. I think that I've got something here. 

A few extra figures: 
  • Time (Levels 5/10/15/25): Assuming previous figures, for every second that passes in the first level, 1.6 seconds, 2.6 seconds, 4.2 seconds, and 10.8 seconds pass in the fifth, tenth, fifteenth, and twenty-fifth levels respectively. For every day that passes in the first level, a day and a half, almost two days, half a week, and almost two weeks pass in the fifth, tenth, fifteenth, and twenty-fifth levels respectively. For every year that passes in the first level, one and a half years, two and a half years, four years, and almost eleven years pass in the fifth, tenth, fifteenth, and twenty-fifth levels respectively. Since the Basement World was created (with the building of the apartment above it) sixty years ago, time has passed as follows: ninety-six years, 155 years, 250, and 650 years have passed in the fifth, tenth, fifteenth, and twenty-fifth levels respectively. 
  • Size (Levels 25/100): If the basement is 25 feet by 100 feet (based on a tenement building) for a total area of 2,500 square feet, and the square footage of each level is 1.05 times greater than the one above it, then the one hundredth level is 328,753 square feet, or approximately 62 square miles. The size of each level increases so that the twenty-fifth level is about 8,466 square feet, or 1.6 square miles.
Questions to answer: 
  • What is rat culture like? How has the generations-long siege mentality shaped the culture?  
  • Does the maze change at all? Do the walls move?
  • How long do rats live?

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