The inspiration behind Wings of Renewal

Today’s post is a guest post by Claudie Arsenault, editor of the upcoming anthology Wings Of Renewal. It’s a collection of solarpunk dragon stories — and hey, any interesting spin on dragons has my full attention! But what was the inspiration to combine eco-positive science fiction and dragons? Take it away, Claudie!

 

2015-08-12 solarpunk anthology front titles

 

The Inspiration Behind Wings of Renewal

Ever seen an image so stunning you just had to write something about it? Read about a new technology that sent your mind spinning with possibilities? I think most writers have felt the thrill of sudden inspiration at one point or another, the solid desire to produce fiction, right there and then, based on something heard or seen.

solarpunkimages

Solarpunk does this to me all the time. Might be why I love it so much! There’s something about the Art Nouveau aesthetics, the incredible sustainable techs, and the marvelous gardens attached to it I just can’t get enough of.

So today I wanted to present three of the inspirations that went into Wings of Renewal, a solarpunk dragon anthology I curated with my friend and co-editor, Brenda J. Pierson.

 

China's Great Green Wall

  1. The Great Green Wall

Let’s start with a cool, currently-occurring African initiative, shall we? The Great Green Wall is a project to plant a long and wide line of trees all along the Sahara’s southern edge. Its goal is to prevent further desertification, and to help communities in the area. The initiative goes well beyond planting trees and includes programs on ecosystem management and the protection of local heritage. As a whole, it seeks to mitigate climate change and improve food security for the local communities. The picture is of China’s very similar initiative, called the Great Green Wall of China.

And I mean, when you look at it, the Great Green Wall is huge undertaking by eleven African countries (Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, and Chad), aiming to create a more sustainable and stable world for the communities involved. You hardly get more solarpunk than that! It’s no surprise, then, that defending the Wall against a terrible forest fire is at the center of Fighting Fire with Fire.

 

Fog Basking Beetle or Darkling Beetle (Onymacris unguicularis) drinking, Namib Desert, Namibia

  1. Darkling Beetles and water condensation

Did you know some beetles can condense dew onto their body and get their daily hydration from it? That’s how the darkling beetles manage to live in the desert! Now give this to a creative writer, and suddenly it’s not a tiny beetle with this ability, but a huge dragon! How much water could one create? Seven? A dozen? Enough for sparkling oasis with a thriving ecosystem? Why yes! That’s the setting in Lost and Found.

 

natasha-long-prosthetic-leg-by-melissa-ng

  1. 3D-printing

Solarpunk isn’t all about adding greenery to the desert. A lot of it revolves around making cities sustainable and accessible living places. 3D printing is a huge part of ‘accessible’ as it allows prosthetics to be created at low costs and high speed. And nothing says these can’t be beautiful and badass! So as a personal fan of everything 3D-printing can bring to a solarpunk universe, I was thrilled when the protagonist from Summer Project not only had prosthetics, but worked in a shop building some.

If you haven’t heard of E-Nable, watch this video! It explains how the organization uses volunteers with 3D printers all over the world to bring cheap (as in, low-cost) prosthetics to people who couldn’t afford it otherwise.

 

dragonsight-by_Donato_Giancola

  1. Dragonsight, by Donato Giancola

The last is not so much solarpunk inspiration as a painting at the center of Wanderer’s Dream, one of the last short stories featured in Wings of Renewal. But it’s a perfect example of what I mentioned at the beginning: sometime an image has a story, or a setting is too charming to refuse. And that’s what happened with Dragonsight and Maura Lydon.

 

So those are some of the inspirations that went into Wings of Renewal, but there are way too many for me to fit all today! I mean, what about vertical gardens? Beekeeping? Tree-shaped solar panels? Everything else I’m forgetting? Between, stunning aesthetics, world-changing goals, and sweeping technologies, solarpunk has all the inspiration you need.

Wings of Renewal launches on October 25th, 2015. You can preorder through Nook, Kobo, and iBooks right now, or add it on Goodreads. Amazon ebooks and paperbacks will be available on launch day.


Aligare hairbrushes

In the land of Aligare, aemet folk have strict rules about cutting trees — trees being the plants closest to goddess Verdana. But other types of plants are fine to cut branches off of, as long as the cutting is done respectfully and for a good reason. There are aemet artisans who use their plantcasting to coax shrubs into specific shapes. Why carve wood — and end up with waste pieces — when you can cooperate with the plant and get the exact shape you need?

 

When aemets need to comb their hair (which is thicker and waxier-textured than a mammal’s hair would be), they often use combs made from branches. Bramble vines and rose branches can be used as is, but their thorns make more effective brush bristles when they’re cultivated all on one side of the branch.

aligarebrushespic

 

The craftsperson encourages the plant into shape, often making the end of that branch into a decorative flourish. Then the branch is cut off (with apologies and thanks given to the plant, and plantcasting used to heal the wound). The thorns are secured with a bit of glue or sealant, and their points are filed slightly blunter. Any additional decoration is simple: some twine, wire or beads. No paints that would cover up the plant’s gift.

 

Since plantcast brushes are made with such care and reverence, they’re often given as gifts on special occasions, or as thanks for a particularly meaningful favour. They’re simple but valued items you might find lying around an aemet’s home.

 


The structure of Aligare homes

You can tell a lot about a culture by what it builds. And in the Aligare world, folk don’t build a lot of structures other than homes and shared social spaces.

An Aligare thatch home would look something like this, although with less square angles. The walls would angle inward and the door frame would be a trapezoid shape.

An Aligare thatch home would look something like this, although its angles wouldn’t be so square. The walls would angle inward and the door frame would be a trapezoid shape.

Aemets were mostly responsible for the advent of house construction. In ancient times, when ferrin lived in the trees and korvi lived on mountaintops, travelling families of aemets began building shelters out of fallen wood and plant debris, propped against living trees. As they developed their plantcasting magic into full-blown agriculture, they also developed the art of permanent(-ish) buildings made of plant materials. And like many Aligare developments, the process picked up speed as aemetkind befriended korvikind and the two races pooled their skills. In the timeframe of the Stories of Aligare, the vast majority of buildings are built in the aemet style.

Building a house in Aligare isn’t as simple as chopping up trees into lumber and nailing them together. Aemets treat the plant goddess’s gift of wood with great respect,  so there are rules about how wood should be used. To respect the tree’s death, wood is never placed with its grain running perpendicular to the ground — which would be akin to propping up a dead body and pretending it’s alive. When wood is used to make the structural poles of a house, those poles are set into the ground at a slant. The exact angle isn’t important as long as it’s clearly not a 90 degree angle. Korvi often find the necessary wood for these poles, since they respect aemet ways but don’t have the same qualms about breaking a tree down into needed material. In some places, korvi metalsmiths provide steel poles for buildings — which don’t need to be placed in any particular way.

Widely was also a fine example of cooperation between the peoplekinds. Syril couldn’t help thinking that every time he landed; today, falling earthward on wide-held wings, he thought the very same. The buildings were roofed and walled with grass thatch, but built on metal poles so that aemet folk wouldn’t fuss about which direction the wood grain in the poles was running. Truly a revelation. The result was good, large buildings that tapered only slightly inward, instead of the drastically slanted pole homes that stifled out every bit of headspace a korvi could possibly put his horns in. All around, Widely made excellent use of materials, in Syril’s opinion.

Render, a story of Aligare, Chapter 8

But when possible, aemets like to tie their house walls around living trees. The house is dismantled and retied each year, to accomodate the trees’ growth and avoid stunting them. With some plantcasting energy spent, it’s possible to grow trees specifically for house structure. If a village is founded in the plains and a few strong casters decide to put the effort in, that village can become a new patch of forest.

The roof (and sometimes the walls, too) are made of woven thatch. Polegrass — which can grow as tall as a person — is used, or else cornstalks from the town’s crops. Strongly scented flowers such as marigold are worked into the thatch to repel insects. Gaps are filled in with moss, cotton fibre or clay. If not thatch, the walls can also be made of wood boards, since the wood is laid horizontally. In fact, wood boards for houses are very valuable, usually given as gifts of love and esteem.

How lively everyone’s hopes had been, giving Arnon more precious boards than the remnants of the Tellig family could possibly use for their two selves. The newly named Fenwater had wanted a leader, someone too stalwart to fear demons, someone surrounded by children learning the trade. They gave their saviour Arnon more house boards, so he could make all the home he would ever need. Father had supposed – in a thoughtful moment years past, candlelight snagging on the lines around his eyes – that he would use the boards for extra training space until Rose had her children.

Remedy, a story of Aligare, Chapter 5

What about korvi-style homes? Their major contribution to housing is pretty much the skill of mining. Hotrock Volcano is a network of tunnel-towns, where korvi live in the warm rock and scrape out spaces large enough to live in. Occasionally, nice slabs of rock are brought beyond Aligare’s mountains and mines, for use as furniture or walls. But for the most part, korvi make use of aemet-style homes when they travel beyond their ancestral Volcano home. If a social space is made with korvi visitors in mind, it’ll usually have a ceiling height that’s really excessive by aemet standards.  That gives enough head space for the often-claustrophobic korvi to feel comfortable, and keeps them from catching their horns on the ceiling thatch.

And ferrin? When they first met the other peoplekinds, they hadn’t developed structural techniques other than their natural way of sheltering in hollow trees, or building squirrel-like nests of clumped plant matter. So ferrin usually accept whatever sturdy homes the other kinds build, or learn to build in the aemet way.

In the current time frame, Aligare hasn’t had much motivation to advance their building techniques. The climate is mild, so dirt floors and thatch walls suit everyone fine. And since aemet-majority villages often fold under the pressures of illness demons, it’s helpful that a village’s buildings can be easily taken apart for their boards and poles. Maybe in a few thousand years, Aligare homes will look different. Maybe.


Chromepieces

Sometimes, the most memorable part of a fantasy story is a strange object. When a character handles an unusual tool or wears a strange garment, it can really make it clear that we’re talking about a foreign place.

So in the development of the Aligare world, I realized I wanted a distinctive object. Not necessarily something the main characters carry around, but some local fixture that wouldn’t exist on Earth. So I worked in some chromepieces.

A chromepiece is a sundial-like fixture made of stone or metal. It focuses a point of light onto a flat face, so the light can be compared to inlaid colour chips. The Great Gem’s light changes colour according to the time of day, so this colour-matching serves the same basic purpose as determining the sun’s position in Earth’s sky. (The “chrome” part of “chromepiece” is from the term chroma, meaning purity or intensity of colour. It has nothing to do with the metal chromium, although a chrome chromepiece is entirely possible.)

But is a chromepiece really necessary? Couldn’t Aligare folk just look at the sky to determine its colour, or look around at their surroundings? Sure they could. Unless someone wants to know the exact time — and Aligare folk usually don’t — the chromepiece is mostly just an excuse to gather in one place.

That’s because each chromepiece is a unique art piece matched to its town or village. Each one is distinctively designed, often depicting a plant or some other elemental form. So a chromepiece is like the flagship symbol of its community, and when you want to get the latest news, where else would you go but the center of the community? When folk are looking to chat, they hang around their town chromepiece on the polite pretense of checking the time of day, or meeting someone at a certain colour of light. As an added bonus, the chromepiece is often placed near the local mage or leader’s home — which is another source of news, events and gossip.

So the town chromepiece isn’t a central feature of Aligare stories. It’s mentioned occasionally, in passing, as a minor detail of town landscapes.

Daylight sat in a pebble-size spot on the town chromepiece face. This moment was the colour of goldenrod blooms, earlier than Rose would have guessed but she knew what time-stretching power a person’s worries could have.

Remedy, a story of Aligare, Chapter 5

But it’s still a part of folk’s lives.