Friday, August 29, 2008

Playing with Blocks

The Waln House ( completed by 1808, demolished in the 1850's)

A. Kern of Philadelphia,

watercolor and ink wash on paper, 1847.

So far the cheerful crew on our street have contented themselves with cement-sawing neat rectangles in the middle of the roadway, digging up hunks of asphalt and dirt, then filling the holes back in -- after the requisite rest period with shovels. In attendance was a tiny and excessively cute backhoe on treads that looked more like a die-cast miniature than a working machine.

Trade and commerce is/are essential to most societies. World building usually requires some sort of reference to a monetary system, unless goods and services are exchanged on the basis of barter.

The simplest system I've read in fantasy used golds, silvers, coppers in a rising ratio by tens, acceptable across political boundaries no matter what face or design decorated the obverse.

In SF, creds or credits often seem to cover the interstellar necessities nicely.

It's amazing though, the number of characters who seem to swan pro bono through the inns and taverns of various fantasy worlds or never have to pay docking fees for their space ships.

I found a penny yestermorn while walking the dogs. Supposed to mean good luck for the day. Various superstitions surround money -- and just about everything else. Something else to consider while constructing an alternative society.

My silver dollars rattle on dry stalks,
While the calendar creeps toward the cold.


Vesper said...

I much admire those who can create complex, complete and highly credible fantasy/science-fiction worlds. I don't think I could do it - not enough patience. A glimpse into one, maybe.

Docking fees... yes, things are sometimes much too easy for the Hero in some of these worlds (or maybe a detail not worth mentioning?) :-)

December/Stacia said...

Lol a friend of mine and I can never figure out how so many UF heroines talk about being poor, yet seem to have unlimited funds for leather corsets. Kind of like the chick-lit heroines who have low-level jobs but can afford designer shoes and handbags.

haunted author said...

You put it so well! "The paying of docking fees"

Obviously, recording every finacial transaction would be boring, but I would like to have some idea how charectors are paying for things-especially charectors that seemingly don't have any/much money- and yet are always eating at resteraunts and hopping into cabs-or spaceships.

One sees all the time in regular movies/tv people go places and do things and never seemingly pay a cent, or wear fabulous clothes and live in wonderful places and eat at expensive resteraunts and they 'work" as store clerks. You have the equivilent in fantasy/sci-fi- as well as some historicial novels- because its even easier to get away with, but I think it erodes the beleivability level.

Its a shame too, because difficulties in paying ones docking fees can add to all kinds of wonderful conflict and suspence- or can be a revelation of charector. I'm working on a chapter where some of my charectors are stranded in another city because they've run out of money to get back home- its only a few bucks for gas, but if you don't have it you don't have it. The way they solve this difficulty revealed a great deal about their personaility- one has turned out to be very creative, and one has turned out to be a whiney jerk.

Bernita said...

Don't think I could either, Vesper. I'm still trying to analyze this one.

Funny,that. A great number of heroines seem to live beyond their means, December!

Robyn said...

I'm glad another girl thinks those little backhoes are cute.

I always wonder how a receptionist making 7 bucks an hour and basic insurance can pay for a $10,000 rack.

Bernita said...

Au contraire, Haunted, YOU put it so well.
It does erode the level of belief if not addressed in some fashion.
As you might guessed, have just finished an SF by Elizabeth Moon in which the money problems are well-handled and are an integral part of the plot and character motivation.
The financial presence reminded me of an absence in other novels.

Bernita said...

Robyn, I almost ran out shrieking, "Me WANT!"

BernardL said...

You're right, I always notice it when fiction neglects the barter system. I like the new series on TV called Burn Notice, but the main character has already begun giving away too much of his labor.

SzélsőFa said...

I think some authors omit little facts of life (such as making payments, or my pet peeve; going to the toilet) because they think that would make the story boring. Or that such scenes would can nothing to the story.
They are wrong.
It's not the act itself, it's the how and the why.

I'm glad to be back, Bernita!
I hope to come more often again.

Bernita said...

Right, Bernard.
No matter what world, there are few free lunches.

"It's not the act itself, it's the how and the why."
That's well put, Szelsofa. So nice to see you back!

writtenwyrdd said...

I think I've heard sols for dollar equivalents, as well as denari, ducets, and other old terms from literature in science fiction and fantasy. But it's way easy for writers to overlook the needs of time and/or money in the hardscaping of their worlds.

One recent read, a YA sf novel, had a guy who was about 18 having several extremely well-stocked and -camouflaged bolt holes/safe houses--and he'd been on the run as a renegade from a police organization for about a year. Huh? Can you say how did you manage that? It really put me off the story.

writtenwyrdd said...

Oh, and I would also cite Elizabeth Moon's Paksinarrion tales as about the best integration of money and finance into a fantasy world. It was important, and you knew the value of things and how it affected the character's choices.

StarvingWriteNow said...

I think money is one of those "assumed" parts of a story, like you assume that characters use the bathroom and stuff. I agree though that in fantasy a mention of currency at some point would possibly add more to the atmosphere.

My calendar is creeping towards the cold as well--faster than I'd like, but what can you do?

SzélsőFa said...

such scenes would can nothing

I knew I was away for a while.
But for thislong, I did not fear.

*covers head*

Bernita said...

Indeed they are, Written, just finished a Moon blow-out - probably what brought the subject to mind.

Money is pretty basic, Beth, but expenditures have to be consistent, no matter where the stories are set.

Szelsofa, it's a virus. Have been doing it too.

I sit in sepia sadness,
mouring the loss of summer.

raine said...

You're right. It's a wonder, the things characters manage without using the ka-ching.

While the calendar creeps toward the cold.

I refuse to accept it! No!
It must be stopped!

Bernita said...

Raine, there are times when I think global warnimg might not be a bad thing.

I sit in sepia silence,
waiting for the leaves to fall.

ChrisEldin said...

A pet peeve of mine.

In my MG, the characters bring things with which to trade whilst they're on their journey. No free rides...

Charles Gramlich said...

I spent a fair amount of time working on monetary systems for Talera, but I haven't put a lot of that into the books. I certainly don't want a single unitary system for the whole planet but it's pretty tough to figure out a bunch of different systems and then allowing them to interact.

Love that snatch of poetry at the end.

Bernita said...

Exchange makes the world go round, Chris.

I assumed you did, Charles, even if no big thing is made of it.
Thank you.

Sam said...

I always stop to pick up pennies...I guess it's that silly rhyme. I can't help feel I'll have good luck that day!
Little details in sci-fi books make a great deal of difference in adding reality. A good luck token, a docking fee for a space ship...


laughingwolf said...

all of that, plus seldom a mention of doc-ing fees... fuel bills, heat and power, etc.

Dave F. said...

and excessively cute backhoe on treads that looked more like a die-cast miniature than a working machine.

They use those backhoes to dig water and sewer lines around here. After all, how big a hole do you need to dig when you are shoving 1/2 inch copper pipe into the ground? or 6 inch sewer line. Most places begin with drilled wells and septic systems.

I have several unfinished stories with immense amounts of backstory and world-building written about them. It helps to clarify the particular set of scenes in the story.

One in particular is The bar had a kitchen, a private dining room, a back poolroom without a pool table ever since the Texas Hold'em craze, basement storage, washrooms and a 2nd floor apartment for Mungo. Originally named and decorated by Mungo's first wife, eschewed by his second, completely neglected by the third wife, and abandoned by his five sons, the Pig and Gruel had a certain Je ne sais quois. Once an upscale pub with the traditional glossy-black lacquered façade, gold-highlighted columns, divided lights and copper appointments, the pub smelled bad, looked dirty and was filled with locals' intent upon drinking their livers into the grave. In plain words, the pub had fallen from grace and seen better days. Regardless, Mungo kept the old place looking respectable. "Townsfolk Good" was what he called it. He washed the exterior with a garden hose, once a month, every month, rain or shine. And during the busy seasons of soccer and football, he hosed the spew and urine into the gutter, sometimes two or three times a day depending on how bad the loss or good the win.

AS you can see, the place has real class. Writing about that bar is more fun than the rest of the story. Now, I'm faced with running with the average people at the bar and all of their goofy whatevers or minimizing the bar and continuing with the original story.

Suzanne Perazzini said...

Damn, I forgot about the toilet. My charcaters are hostages in an Egyptian temple. What about the damned toilet?

Bernita said...

At one time, a penny wasn't to be sneezed at, Sam, would buy something,so finding one really was lucky.

Lw, Moon's "Vatta's War" does a good job of covering the economies of space.

The little machine made sense here, since they were only checking water/sewer connections it seems.
You certainly created ambience, Dave. Slucing down the facade with a hose is a great touch.

Latrine research, Suzanne?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Chuckled reading one of Peter's Amelia Peabody stories. A prisoner escapes by beaning her captor with a chamber pot.

laughingwolf said...


Bernita said...

Elizabeth Moon, Lw.
Writes finest kind, female protag fantasy and SF.
Tough without being smart-ass kick-ass.

Lana Gramlich said...

You make a good point, one that I considered in depth back when I used to DM for a D&D group.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Lana.
Money makes all worlds go round.

laughingwolf said...

ah, thx... i've heard she's an excellent writer

Dave F. said...

I have one story whose name is "Desert Planet that's Not Arrakis" and that tells you all about what the story is not going to be. Sometimes when you world build for as story, you have to "not-build" what was done before.

Strangely, the verification word is "upkbbybb"...

Steve Malley said...


Bernita said...

Common assumptions and conventional beliefs are a real bugger, Dave.
You see it all the time with zombies and ghosts.


Kate Thornton said...

Bernita, I always wonder about the economics in stories - how can they go off crime-or-puzzle solving when they have to go to work? And doesn't that vehicle/transport/bribe/cute electronic device/gun/tattoo/bag of magic beans cost money???

Love the little back hoe, too - thety brought one in here a couple of years ago to dig our spa - it was the cutest little thing!

Bernita said...

Economics should get at least a minor mention, Kate, so as not to stretch our suspension of disbelief til it snaps.

I do like these minature machines. Works Dep't here also has a teeny little salt 'n sander for sidewalks in winter.

Have missed you.

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