In my most recent article, I promised to share how the concept of neomedievalism influenced the worldbuilding of my middle-grade adventure series Post-Third Apocalypse (PTA). But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that writing that article would be like dumping my reader into the middle of a book with no context. So instead, I decided to start a new series called Building Antarctica, where I discuss the behind-the-scenes worldbuilding of PTA to demonstrate my thought process as a world builder. Hang tight, though, because that promised article on neomedievalism is looking like it’ll be the 3rd or 4th article in this series!
Before worldbuilding always comes the story you want to tell. Dark or light, happy or sad, adventure or emotion? In other words, what is your inspiration?
From the moment you open Book 1 of PTA, it becomes pretty obvious that the inspiration was Pokémon. I loved Pokémon as a kid: The bright colors, the light tone, the formulaic adventures but with the bad guys moving in the background, slowly building up to a larger plot. But for all my searching, and despite the cartoon rip-offs (I’m looking at you, Digimon), I’d never read anything like Pokémon. And I wanted to.
Last semester of freshman year of college, exam week: Lots of extra time on my hands, so I decided to rewatch Pokémon: Destiny Deoxys (fun fact, I own all the Pokémon movies 1-11). In this movie, a Pokémon from outer space crash-lands on earth and I had the thought: What if all Pokémon were aliens? How would humans react when Pokémon first came on the earth? How would society have to evolve in order to turn Pokémon battles and Gym leaders into a thing?
I decided to build a story based off those questions.
But I couldn’t base my aliens solely off Pokémon, for several reasons I’m about to get into. Luckily, I had been playing around with several other ideas in my head as well. One of those was the idea of drifting from Pacific Rim, where in order to pilot a giant alien-killing robot, two pilots have to share their thoughts and memories. I wanted to see more of this: How pilots would get along if they fundamentally disagreed over values, what would happen if a pilot lied to their partner, etc. I had also just watched the movie Venom and have been a long-time fan of the superhero Blue Beetle. All three of these media would inform how I dealt with the weaknesses of translating Pokémon from a visual to a written medium.
Problem 1: You can’t see the aliens on page.
Pokémon is fun because you can see all of the amazing creatures, but it starts to fall apart if you try describing them just with words. If I tell you to imagine a yellow mouse with a lightning bolt tail, the image in your head probably isn’t Pikachu. Now imagine doing that 150+ more times and giving all the creatures unique species names – no one is going to be able to keep them straight without pictures!
So, simply put, my aliens were not going to be as unique as Pokémon – that just wouldn’t work for a written medium. Luckily, the world is full of a bunch of amazing creatures already. And thus, my shape-shifting alien race was born.
Problem 2: The story lacks tension if the human is safe.
Once thing I noticed after watching a bunch of Pokémon movies is that, in order to achieve tension, Ash Ketchum and his friends themselves had to be threatened. A regular Pokémon battle wouldn’t do it, because then your animal buddy is the only one in harm’s way, not the human. To give the reader a sense of tension, I wanted the human and alien’s wellbeing to be tied together. (Also, as much as I love Pokémon, isn’t it a little cruel to send your pet mouse out to fight a giant fire-breathing lizard?) This is where Venom and Blue Beetle come in: If the alien merges with the human, then they’re both in danger if they have to fight a big bad evil boss. Now that I figured out my shapeshifting alien race is symbiotic with humans, I could name the aliens: Symbia.
Problem 3: How intelligent are Pokémon?
Are Pokémon animals or are they sentient? Does it depend on the Pokémon? These are questions the show never really answered (and I don’t blame them), but would have to be answered in a book. By answering “Yes” I was able to incorporate the idea of drifting from Pacific Rim, where in order to fully merge (or enter Symbionic form as I call it), an alien and human have to share all their thoughts and respect that the other person might not agree with them.
Intelligent aliens also gave me a lot more wiggle room when it came to how they arrived on earth. (Answer: Not on a comet.) Furthermore, it allows me to explore thorny ethical issues that would arise in this world, such as humans “owning” another sentient race. And who doesn’t love thorny ethical issues?
So that’s how Pokémon inspired my aliens. If you want to know more about Symbia, check out my free Symbia Handbook by signing up for my newsletter here!
But now that I had the aliens pinned down, I still had the rest of the world to build. One thing was clear: I wanted the world to be our world. But how would I get from our world to a Pokémon-esc world?
Answer: Subject humanity to three different apocalypses.
Apocalypse 1: Nuclear Apocalypse
The world as we know it is huge. In order to make it manageable for me and the characters, I knew I wanted to move everyone to Antarctica and Australia. So how to go about doing that?
Blow the rest of the world up.
Bonus points that the fact that most of the world is uninhabitable due to nuclear radiation can now play an important role in the plot later in the series!
Apocalypse 2: Alien Invasion
Obviously I have to bring my alien Symbia in somehow. Five alien space-cruisers crash-landing across the earth soon after a nuclear apocalypse? Yeah, I’m pretty sure humanity would be freaking out enough to call this the Second Apocalypse. But I also need some way to end nuclear winter (what good is global warming for moving everyone to Antarctica if the world gets coated in snow and ice anyway?). Luckily, since the author is always right, I can just claim that the aliens had tech that allowed them to put a stop to nuclear winter.
Apocalypse 3: Magnetic Pole Reversal and “Dark” Tech
Final problem: I knew I wanted my series to feel contemporary. Even though PTA is technically sci-fi, I wanted the focus to be on the Symbia rather than on the technology. Additionally, technological growth is exponential. Seeing as how my series takes place roughly 500 years in the future, there was no way I could predict what technology would be around – particularly once I added alien technology into the mix!
Eventually, I decided to use a real-life phenomenon with a fictional twist: Magnetic Pole Reversal. It’s already scientifically demonstrated that the earth’s magnetic poles switch regularly, and scientists are also pretty sure that if the next pole reversal happens to take place in our lifetime, it won’t cause our technology much of a problem.
But that says nothing about alien tech.
Considering the fact that the Symbia were probably on their spaceships for a couple hundred (or thousand) years, it makes sense that they might develop a type of technology that would interact poorly with the magnetic field of a planet. Perhaps it’s fine for the first hundred years or so…long enough for humans to adapt and become dependent on this very specific type of technology…then BAM! When the poles switch, the technology turns “dark” and begins poisoning everything around it.
Introducing the Third Apocalypse, which effectively set technology back to the time before the First Apocalypse. Not only does this allow me to have a contemporary feel to the books, it also lets me have inconsistent levels of technological development throughout different scientific fields. Since I love playing with imaginary sciences, that was a fun bonus.
So there you have it: the inspiration and the foundation for the construction of the world of Post-Third Apocalypse. My goal for the next article in this series is to focus on economic development, specifically considering how the historical situation (having had 3 apocalypses) may have effected the development of government-economy relations. Yes, it will probably get a little bit nerdy, so I’ll try to come up with a fun article in the meantime!