After the completion of my first two novels, I’m in the mood for a third, and I’ve already chosen a title: “Letters from the Airy Deep”. I for one thinks it’s a nice title. What is the story the title denotes? Why, none other than my first work of fiction depicting the worldbuilding in my Thalassa project, the story of a boy and a girl who fall in love while exploring the atmosphere of Thalassa and making first contact with the native alien intelligence.
Yes, there’s yet more romance in this story. I’ve found that I like it very much. It’s enjoyable for me to write and I think it comes off very well compared to some of the other aspects of my writing and plotting. Another reason I like romance is one that some writers might be loathe to admit: it serves as great “glue” to connect settings and characters where no other plot is available.
This might sound like a lazy way to write or plot, but let’s just say there’s a reason why opera and ballet so often use romance: because it’s a universally understood human story that easily transcends barriers of language and medium. The barriers between worldbuilding and fiction reader can in my view be similarly transcended.
So it is with the Thalassa project and “Letters from the Airy Deep”. In addition to being a love story, “Letters from the Airy Deep” is also a first contact story. For the first time mankind will make direct contact with an alien intelligence, and both the hero and heroine of the story will take their places in history as the first to touch and talk to an alien.
A Space Colonization Fleet to Proxima Centauri
The background for “Letters from the Airy Deep” is that a massive fleet of space habitats, decades in the making, is launched as man’s first colonization drive toward Proxima Centauri around 2040. Through a combination of solar sail, magnetic sail, and nuclear pulse propulsion they reach Proxima Centauri in 20 years or so, around 2060. This is when the actual story of “Letters from the Airy Deep” starts.
2040 might seem an implausibly aggressive timeframe at first glance, but bear in mind that this setting is an alternate history. By 2040 in this world’s timeline, men have already went into space for 100 years, permanently lived on Mars for 80 years, constructed and lived in O’Neill-cylinder-style space habitats for 60 years, and have sent out interstellar probes for 50 years.
As already shown in “The Hunt for Count Gleichen’s Treasure”, interplanetary transportation within days using nuclear pulse propulsion is routine enough to be affordable to at least the richest men of this setting. Sending out a massive interstellar colonization fleet that can reach Proxima Centauri within two decades after over half a century of development in nuclear pulse, solar sail, and space habitat technology is not that much of a stretch.
In any case the exact time-frame is not very relevant to the actual story. The story will be told in letters, diary entries, and “captain’s logs”, cataloguing the travels of the young man and young woman who go down in a nuclear zeppelin to the atmosphere of Thalassa. In this story Thalassa is one and the same with the planet our science knows as “Proxima Centauri b”.
Thalassa: an Oxygen-Drenched Water World
I’ve taken artistic license with the planet and made it a planet covered in water, enveloped in an atmosphere drenched in oxygen. This oxygen, unlike Earth’s, was not generated biologically. Thalassa went through the process described in recent studies and mentioned in a previous blog post on the topic of primordial water being split into oxygen (which is retained by the planet’s gravity) and hydrogen (which is blown off into space) early in the planet’s history.
This process is speculated to be especially common in high-radiation environments, and the Proxima Centauri system was one of them, so I’ve taken that idea and run with it. While Proxima Centauri b probably is not like Thalassa in real life, I’m sure there really are planets out there somewhere that fit this description.
In addition to the rich life present in its very deep oceans, Thalassa’s atmosphere teems with life. At the surface there is 50 times as much air as there is on Earth, and 98% of it is oxygen, making for air with 250 times as much oxygen as Earth’s surface. This provides truly extreme amounts of energy to air-breathing life-forms, enabling them to dominate the oceans. The high pressure and great energies available make flight extremely easy, and so Thalassa is dominated by gigantic flying creatures.
The Concept of alien Intelligence on Thalassa
One species of these giant flyers is the sapient “Thalassans”, who lead the on-this-planet-common fully airborne lifestyle of being generalist hunters with a cosmopolitan distribution. Their young are born live midair, unlike terrestrial birds which use eggs, and cling to their mothers’ backs after birth. When they’re small children they start to launch themselves in front of their mothers as they develop their abilities to fly, glide, and soar. If anything goes wrong their mothers can easily catch them with their feet, which resemble that of Earth birds and pterodactyls.
Being large and long-lived creatures, gestations and childhoods are long, and they are slow-breeding, slow-dying creatures like humans and most of the higher animals. I’m not sure whether to incorporate the ideas I have concerning biological immortality as outlined in one of my previous blog posts into the longevity of this species. It might be a bit much. I might make them still mortal but longer-lived than humans, or perhaps not longer-lived at all. Alternatively, I might make some of the other species ageless, not the sapient Thalassans. In any case it won’t have much implication for the story I’m telling in “Letters from the Airy Deep” and so I can make that decision at a later time.
Another decision is whether to have an additional sapient species that live underwater, or an additional sapient species that are giant insectoids that live in eusocial hives floating in the lower atmosphere, or both! With that much oxygen insects could easily grow to be as large as a human, if not larger. In any case they will be harder to uncover due to the higher pressure and more alien environment, and so if they are discovered to be sapient it will be after the time of this story.
The Thalassan birds (or bird-men) are not as alien as an underwater or insectoid race would be. Having faculties of communication similar to Earth’s birds, they would have language similar to bird-song, though lower-pitched due to their larger size. Like the talking birds of Earth, they will even be able to speak human languages.
This might even end up being an important plot point. Although I’m planning for our hero to start by successfully making contact using mathematics, this will quickly progress to each race learning the other’s language. The band of Thalassans our heroes contact will learn Russian (though this is of course via the “translation convention” rendered in English in the actual book), and the humans will learn the Thalassan band’s language.
Thalassans: A Race of Hunters
Not only the language, but the lifestyle is similar to humans. Like wild humans, Thalassan society takes the form of the band, a mobile group of several extended families who all fly and soar together looking for food, fun, love, and new discoveries. Each band I’m thinking averages several dozen individuals.
Unlike most humans, they are hunters, not hunter-gatherers; they are a carnivorous species, and plants do not form a significant part of their diet. This is due to airborne plankton being the only true plant life in the atmosphere of Thalassa; everything else is either floating sessile animals similar to coral reefs on Earth or more “normal” animals. I’m basing this off of marine ecosystems on Earth, right down to giant airborne whales who filter-feed airborne krill.
Among humans in almost all bands the males hunt and the females gather. In cultures that have a more carnivorous diet, such as the Inuit, this shifts to males hunting and females preparing food, not to both males and females hunting. I’m basing the Thalassan sexual division of labor on this idea. This will make them not too different from humans in lifestyle.
Curvaceous Beauty as a sapient Universal?
In some ways they won’t even be too different in appearance; as far as I know humans are the only species whose females use subcutaneous fat to physically attract males. It turns out that fat is very good for nourishing the developing brains of babies, and it stands to reason that the greater the intelligence of a species, the greater the importance of fat. Softness and curves being attractive in the nurturing sex might be the norm in the universe.
This does not mean Thalassans will have big breasts like humans. Since Thalassan women have no breasts, the soft curves of pretty women could easily be located elsewhere on the body. A resemblance to the human hourglass will be present, but will be modified by aerodynamic considerations; bulges and orbs will be located in the same sort of places they appear in our designs for subsonic airplanes.
The Psychology of avian Aliens
I’m also planning for Thalassans to be a monogamous species, similar to many sea birds on Earth. This is not too different from humans, who are also generally monogamous, but humans have a promiscuous streak that these birds will lack. Thalassan psychology will take inspiration from birds, and so Thalassan chicks will “imprint” on their mothers right after birth. Something similar might also occur for their wives and husbands.
Speaking of psychology, I am planning for them to be a very playful, capricious, and rather silly race, much like how terrestrial birds (rightly or wrongly) seem to me most of the time, prone to flights of fancy and not being as attentive as humans. Their intelligence will, however, be considerably greater than that of humans; they learn new concepts fast. This will prove to be a key advantage for the Thalassans, offsetting their small population, when the two civilizations eventually mix.
And there is a real civilization on Thalassa. As outlined in my blog post on avian intelligence, they are a “Bone Age” culture, not even enjoying access to stone. They do, however, have access to bone, animal fat, animal oils, and floating gasbag lifeforms. These lifeforms could be harnessed to float a wide variety of structures, and the Thalassans have taken full advantage of this. Storehouses, laboratories, and libraries abound.
These libraries may or may not contain any true writing; writing was an artifact of sedentary civilization on Earth, and so may not exist on Thalassa. In any case they will make art like Paleolithic humans did, and no doubt will leave highly pictographic descriptions of their scientific and technical knowledge in addition to any oral traditions. This alone might be sufficient to develop writing; perhaps a more overtly visual form of logographic writing will dominate. Given the global distribution of their culture, logograms would also be convenient for crossing language barriers, ensuring knowledge can be understood by all who might fly into a given library.
Anything highly industrial or technological will be more or less precluded until the sifting of seawater into its constituent elements leads to the discovery of metals and eventually radioactivity and uranium, jump-starting a nuclear industrial revolution. As of when first contact is made around 2060 the Thalassans are well short of this level. To have two civilizations just happening to reach space at the same time in neighboring star systems is a bit much even for me. Nevertheless I might like to re-use this concept on a far more distant planet with another avian race.
Letters from the Airy Deep
In any case, the actual novel, “Letters from the Airy Deep”, will be almost a travelogue, with the hero and heroine describing their voyage of discovery in their nuclear zeppelin. Their airship is luxuriously appointed, with teak wood interiors, stone hearths, real firewood, baths and showers with whole cascading waterfalls pouring down on them, a whole array of robots to assist them, and all the other comforts of a 21st century home.
This would necessitate a rather large airship, but there’s more than enough room in each colonization habitat for a whole fleet of such ships. In fact, I’m even planning for them to have hang gliders available in the airship to go out for a closer look at the local flora and fauna.
They also have large observation lounges that each have windows on the sides, the lower lounge having a glass floor, and the upper lounge having a glass ceiling. They will even open the side windows to get their first breath of Thalassan air near the beginning of the story.
I’m still not entirely decided on the hero’s and heroine’s names. I was originally going to name the boy Xylo, ancient Greek meaning forest, and the girl Vesna, the Slavic goddess of spring, but I now think that I will name the boy Ilmarinen, the Finnish god of smithing, and the girl Ilmatar, the Finnish goddess of the air. Both names have an etymological connection to the air, which would be appropriate for people who live in the atmosphere, as they will on Thalassa.
Our Girl Ilmatar: “A pleasant Specimen of Femininity”
Ilmarinen and Ilmatar were both born in transit during the two decade journey, presumably rather early in it since they’re both adults by the time they arrive, and Thalassa is the first planet either has ever seen or been to. Ilmatar, despite her Finnish first name, is of Russian heritage; both of her parents came from Siberia.
She’s a beautiful girl, with wavy golden blonde hair tumbling all the way down her back. She has big doe eyes that are a baby blue color. Her skin is smooth and fair, her breasts large and shapely, her figure an all-but-perfect hourglass, her whole body soft and inviting. She has the appearance of a Nordic beauty queen, and indeed has actually won quite a few beauty contests. She has already been an artistic and fashion model for years, and has hobbies and interests, but her only real ambition in life is to become a wife and mother.
Ilmarinen: Hero of the Airy Deep
Ilmarinen’s heritage is less clear to me, other than being white European. I’ve been thinking of making him a descendant of the couple from “Dear Future Me”, Bodo and Imogen. Both of them I’ve always envisioned as having some sort of northern European, not Russian, heritage; to be honest I envision both of them as being ethnically German, though that could be subject to revision. The other half of Ilmarinen’s ancestry, however, could easily be Russian, Finnish, or perhaps a blend of both. In any case he will speak fluent Russian. In any case I envision Ilmarinen as having red hair, perhaps a beard, and perhaps green eyes, though his facial hair and eye color are subject to revision.
Ilmarinen was selected to pilot one of the airships going into the atmosphere (there’s a whole fleet of them, though Ilmarinen arrives a bit before the rest of them) because from childhood he has been trained, with his enthusiastic cooperation, to be a scientist specializing in first contacts and the survey of alien biospheres and ecosystems. When the time came to select people to go down and survey Thalassa he was one of the most obvious choices.
Love Letters from the Airy Deep
An interesting twist is that he originally wanted to go down alone, but was convinced after much cajoling to take a woman with him, a feminine counterpart to himself, so that both the masculine and feminine perspectives would be represented in the beholding of the planet and to any alien intelligence they might find. After all, who would want to give the impression that males are the only or the default human sex?
Ilmarinen reasons that if he is to take a woman with him, she might as well be a pleasant specimen of femininity, so at the urging of Ilmatar’s parents he takes her with him as his feminine counterpart. Unbeknownst to either them, Ilmatar’s parents want her to fall in love with him and eventually take him as her husband, figuring they would be a good match for each other, and they also figure that if anything will stimulate lust and romance it will be the prolonged intimacy of such a voyage. They end up getting their wish.
Although not a presence he originally wanted, he selects her because she’s the most beautiful woman he knows, and because she has such a pleasant personality. She’s cute and has a big heart but isn’t a chatterbox or overly needy or moody.
No doubt Ilmarinen has known Ilmatar for some time, though obviously he hasn’t seriously contemplated a romantic relationship yet. Both are rather young, and may have known each other at least to some extent from childhood, which would also explain the curious coincidence of their names.
Normally the advice would be to not have two names in one story that are as similar as Ilmarinen and Ilmatar but since they are essentially the only characters in “Letters from the Airy Deep” I figure it should be easy enough for readers to differentiate them.
Letters from the Airy Deep: A fun Fantasy
I intend to work in all the elements of my Thalassa project into “Letters from the Airy Deep”. As they explore the world they will fall more and more in love with each other, and even end up getting married on Thalassa, after Ilmatar feels nothing but adoration and hero-worship of her beloved Ilmarinen for being the man who made first contact.
As for Ilmarinen, he’ll find Ilmatar’s beauty, charm, and awe at all the wonders of the new world to be irresistible. Unlike in “Dear Future Me” I am not planning for there to be any breakup or heartbreak. It’s not as straight of a character-driven highs-and-lows concept as “Dear Future Me”, but my objective with “Letters from the Airy Deep” is for the audience to experience the journey through Thalassa and to first contact through the eyes of the characters, and for the two main characters to provide a pleasant and heartwarming fantasy.
Oh, they will experience highs and relative lows, and they will face challenges, but this will be a collection of letters, diaries, and captain’s logs that is driven by fun and wonder.
I’m not sure how long it will turn out, but I’m already up to 1000 words, so I’m pretty sure “Letters from the Airy Deep” will break that 40,000 word mark to be a true novel in the science fiction romance genre. Although I’m not having quite as easy a time pouring words out onto the page as I did in my last novel, I must say I’m having fun with it. I’m not sure about the exact release date, but I am very confident that it will be finished and published by the end of the year at the latest. I for one can’t wait for my own journey of discovery along with the characters’!