Sisterhoods and Hives of my Space Opera

With my mind still focusing on worldbuilding for my next novel, “Warp Dawn”, I have fleshed out and expanded some of the races and groups that are out there in my far-future space opera setting, a thousand years after the events of my first four novels.

In my previous post, “The Strange New Worlds of Warp Dawn”, I give some background on the novel’s plot and three of the alien homeworlds my characters will visit: Belperev, home to a race of white-feathered dinosaur-like aliens half a mile long; another yet unnamed world home to giant-squid-like aliens living in a deep-water bioluminescent dreamscape; and Medabogovia, home to bird-like nectar-eating honey-making aliens that live in a great hive that spans their homeworld.

Medabogovia: giving Honeymoon a whole new Meaning

For Medabogovia, I have decided to make it a moon of a larger planet rather than the primary of its planetary system, a moon of planetary mass, or what one might call a satellite planet. Medabogovia is supposed to be vaguely comparable to Earth in mass, so ordinarily a gas giant planet would be the best fit for its primary.

I have pretty much decided to go with this. If the mass ratio between Medabogovia and its primary (Medabogovia Prime? Glavnaya Medabogovia?) is comparable to each of the Galilean moons, then a moon of one Earth mass implies a primary of a whopping 40 Jupiter masses, big enough to be a brown dwarf! Combining all four Galilean moons into one object shrinks down the primary needed for the same ratio to a somewhat-less-whopping 10 Jupiter masses.

A mass ratio similar to Earth and our Moon, on the other hand, would require a primary of only a quarter of a Jupiter mass, comparable to Saturn. In Earth’s case that was formed from a giant impact event, but it’s not too hard to imagine a much thicker rock-rich disk around a migrating gas giant protoplanet early in its history. A mass ratio similar to Pluto and Charon would require a primary of only eight Earth masses, small enough to be rocky! A true double planet, where both have comparable masses, is also a possibility, but not one I intend to explore with Medabogovia. I believe I’ll go with a Saturn-mass primary for Medabogovia.

The Medabogovian System

Like Saturn, it will also have rings, though being in the inner part of its solar system it will have more rock-rich dark rings instead of Saturn’s bright icy rings. This makes them not as prominent, but still easily visible if one looks closely, becoming particularly obvious when they’re viewed in front of the planet, almost like silhouettes.

The Medabogovian system will have other planetary-mass moons as well, but perhaps more Mars- or Moon-like than Earth-like, providing some nearby destinations for local spacefarers. The world-spanning hive might even have colonies on these other moons, since they’re within relatively easy communications range from home, no more than a few seconds of light-speed lag.

Differentiating two Oxygen Worlds

Medabogovia being a moon also helps considerably with differentiating it from Thalassa from my previous novel “Letters from the Airy Deep”. Both of them are what I call “oxygen worlds”, former ocean planets where part or all of the ocean has been stripped down into oxygen (which is retained) and hydrogen (which escapes into space) by solar radiation early in their histories, leaving very thick abiogenic oxygen atmospheres.

In Thalassa’s case it’s 50 times thicker than Earth’s, and there is still a deep ocean left over from this process, but in Medabogovia’s case the entire ocean was stripped bare, leaving a desert surface and an oxygen atmosphere thousands of times thicker than Earth’s.

Such worlds, though they can occur around a large variety of stars, are likelier to form around red dwarf and perhaps orange dwarf stars than elsewhere. Thalassa’s sun, Proxima Centauri, is a red dwarf star. I have decided that Medabogovia’s sun will also be a red dwarf. To differentiate it from Thalassa further, I have also decided that Medabogovia’s sun will be a “contact binary” pair of red dwarfs.

In addition to these two suns, I will site at least one other brighter sun in a distant orbit, providing a bright star at night but no more than that. This is somewhat similar to Alpha Centauri as seen from Thalassa. But I think the fact that it’s a moon, with a hulking white planet with dark rings in the sky, two red dwarf suns, a variety of other moons easily visible as disks from the surface, and not tidally locked to its sun (unlike Thalassa, it has a normal day and night instead of one side in light and one side in darkness constantly), differentiates it from Thalassa enough.

Meet the Medabogovians

The inhabitants are also quite different from the Thalassans. Both of them are bird-like avian aliens, but whereas the Thalassans are soaring hunters the Medabogovians are nectar-eaters, subsisting entirely off an alien analogue to nectar, harvested from giant flowering plants that float in the depths of the atmosphere, warm and toasty, even torridly hot, with pressures comparable to being deep underwater, in stark contrast to the human-breathable pressures where they site their hives, high above the overwhelming majority of the atmosphere and the enormous beasts that fly and float within it, where the ambient temperature is something like a hundred degrees below zero.

From this nectar they make a unique and extremely appetizing variety of honey in their hives, which needless to say have interior temperatures that are warm and cozy. Although similar in form to supersized hummingbirds, with vividly colorful and iridescent feathers, they have one thing in common with terrestrial insectoid honeybees: they are a eusocial race.

Worldbuilding eusocial Aliens

Eusociality, of course, is characterized by a race’s young being cared for by the whole community, multi-generational colonies, and a division of labor between a naturally fertile caste and a naturally sterile caste.

It’s common in science fiction for eusocial races to have a telepathic hive mind, but that most certainly won’t be the case for the Medabogovians. It’s also common for said hive mind to be centralized within the queen, who usually controls everything and is the strongest, instead of being responsible for egg-laying as in real life; the Medabogovian queens follow the real-life pattern.

The Medabogovians closely coordinate their activities on a global scale, but the whole planet is not a single colony; rather, each hive, as in each physical structure, is its own colony. Instead of one queen for each colony, I intend for there to be multiple queens, a whole class, as in some eusocial terrestrial creatures.

They will also have analogues of worker (sterile females, including nursemaids) and drone (fertile males) castes, possibly divided into some sub-castes that don’t have terrestrial counterparts; intelligentsia (thinkers) and udarniki (super-workers) are two of the more obvious possibilities, as is a managerial sub-caste.

One idea I might like to work with is a sub-caste of eccentrics, those with highly unusual, risk-loving, and experimental perspectives, which might prove to be very useful as a font of innovation for the race, which otherwise has a global collectivistic and conformist hive mentality, not the most likely context for new inventions and ways of being to emerge from.

Instead of a sub-caste within each colony, however, a better approach might be to spin off a certain percentage of whole colonies as experiments, which I suspect might be more useful, since they would provide working examples of how different kinds of colonies might operate in a real-world, as opposed to theoretical, context.

A steampunk alien Hive World

With regard to their technology, I said in my previous post that the Medabogovians will have a mature industrial civilization, perhaps, at least originally, based on geothermal power, building great tubes from their hives into the depths, letting hot air rise, and drive turbines that produce power. This complements a steampunk aesthetic and vibe very nicely, and that might provide much of the inspiration for their technology.

Originally they will likely have been reliant on organic technology, or at least technology made out of biological materials as like what is found in the Thalassan air reefs, but it’s possible they might have domesticated deep-air creatures or made machines to mine minerals out from the torrid and arid surface. This will enable the steampunk-style reliance on mechanical technology I envision to be plausible, even though their circumstances might contribute to making the selective breeding and genetic engineering of new life-forms their (relatively) most advanced field.

Imagine a honeybee hive, except it’s intelligent birds, and the honeycomb is filled with steampunk-style industrial technology and facilities. Interesting, isn’t it? It’s almost a shame my characters will by necessity be visiting Medabogovia so briefly. It might be interesting to have them stay longer. Of course there’s always the possibility of writing a new book focusing on Medabogovia, a human traveler’s diary of an expedition there perhaps. That’s an idea!

The Sisterhood

In contrast to the Medabogovians’ reliance on mechanical technology, another group, a sub-race of humans, prefer to rely on organic technology, the companionship between humans and other living things: the Sisterhood. As I described in my last post:

The Sisterhood, which I’ve provisionally named the Order of Mokosh, the Sisters of Mokosh, the Daughters of Gaia, or some such, believes that the mother goddess having created the cosmos and mother humans being the bearers of new life makes it the natural order for women to rule, which is reflected in the culture and (engineered) genetics of their society. Women are dominant but it’s a very feminine form and style of domination; their faces and demeanor are designed to be regal, their bodies soft and supple but also slender and graceful, their build resembling ballerinas. Their tall elegant bodies starkly contrast with Emma’s short voluptuous (to the point of heavy) body, though both are very attractive.

Another contrast with Emma and her (and Perun’s) people is that the Sisterhood has something of a hive mentality. Unlike some other human races in this setting they are not eusocial, but rather the girls (and being ageless they are all biologically young women) alternate between being fertile and infertile, depending on the collective mood of the sisters.

Seasons of Life in the Sisterhood

Most sisters produce at least a few children early in adulthood, and then have seasons of life, decades-long perhaps, where they take a husband, even multiple husbands, and focus more on family, and seasons of life where they’re infertile and are hard-charging and hard-working, though in an aristocratic rather than worker-drone fashion, leading expeditions, intelligence work, diplomacy, research, and so forth. The girls retain the same appearance throughout life (tall, elegant, poised, and feminine), but have different psychological dispositions, as expressed through their urges and their body language. Each season of life gives off specific pheromones their men are sensitive to.

Marriages in the sisterhood last for one of these seasons, however long that is, rather than for life as is the norm in the main characters’ (Perun’s and Emma’s) culture. This is called the “flow of life”, “the flow of Mokosh”, or simply “the flow”, and is the product of some very sophisticated and subtle genetic engineering that impresses even our protagonists!

Flowing into new Wormhole Technology

The Sisterhood likes for obvious reasons to synchronize its flow across a vast range of space, not just across each band of sisters in each system, and uses their own warp links and warp gates for this purpose, built or acquired at great cost, for this purpose. Unlike the Medabogovians they are very wealthy as a group, which gives them the resources to gain great influence in their section of the Gaiagen sphere and certain strategic points beyond, and makes coordination across interstellar space viable.

Nevertheless they are frustrated by the limitations and dependencies this imposes on them, and so are very interested in using Perun’s new wormhole technology for themselves. In large measure because of this they share Perun’s desire to spread this new technology across the cosmos, and so assist him in his efforts, joining his expedition, only disembarking after a few months, before Perun and Emma return to the Atlas system for the Kupala festival, their last stop in the Gaiagen sphere before setting out to explore the cosmos on a permanent basis.

Bonding patriarchal, egalitarian, matriarchal

The bonding that our main characters’ culture engages in is considered by the Sisterhood to be somewhat insidious, making their women compliant with their husbands’ wishes, which in our main characters’ culture means bearing, breastfeeding, and raising as many children as nature will give them (and since they have sex for half their day, that’s a lot, a child every other year on average) for the rest of their lives, practically mandating they devote their days to their husband and children, and not to the larger world anywhere near to the extent men can.

In the novel the sisters will say this is not so different from how cultures that are outright patriarchal treat their women. Despite Perun’s lack of interest in giving his wife orders or making his wife obey them in any real sense, it’s also true that Emma pretty much always does as Perun tells her. She won’t have noticed this until the sisters tell her that.

Then again, their criticism is arguably hypocritical. Emma will ask them how they make their men so compliant with the Sisterhood’s program, and they will forthrightly admit they use the same bonding process, just designed to change the men upon bonding more than the women. They believe that’s the proper use of that process, as opposed to the perversion of non-matriarchal cultures, since it’s the natural order women to command and men to obey.

An intimate Sisterhood

Between women they have a very collegial and egalitarian society. The Sisterhood encourages very close friendships and relationships between its sisters to the point of communalism, encouraging them to do everything together as a group throughout their lives. They share pretty much everything, including their master (mistress?) artificial intelligence computer network. They do have their privacy and their secrets too, of course.

Even if they don’t indulge in (accepted and even encouraged) romantic and sexual relations with their fellow sisters, they are very intimate with their fellow sisters, a mentality which extends to the gestures they use to greet each other: tight hugs and kisses on the mouth, even with tongue, much more intimate than even Emma’s home culture, which encourages its girls to greet their friends of the same sex with kisses (pecks!) on the mouth and hugging tightly.

Another interesting aspect of the Sisterhood is that all of its girls are quite similar to each other. This is a tendency seen in the present day (“greater male variability”) and in most human lineages of the future in my setting, and is actually accentuated in the Sisterhood’s genome. Feminine uniformity and conformity in both body and mind is greatly enhanced. Together with their genome giving them a feeling of well-being if they go along with the Sisterhood’s wishes and what’s best for it, it all helps them to work together much more effectively.

The distant Descendants of the Women in Tech

Another interesting aspect of the Sisterhood I’ve worldbuilt just recently is that they trace their lineage, both in culture and in blood, ultimately all the way back to the women’s collectives, circles, and secret societies established by Emma Reinhardt (a cousin of Count Menteith Reinhardt von Gleichen from “The Hunt for Count Gleichen’s Treasure”) in the 20th century information technology world, who later colonized space, lost most of their distinctive characteristics, and then in the centuries of the pre-wormhole scattering rediscovered the (at the time) science-fictional vision of some of Emma Reinhardt’s descendants for a sisterhood and with the aid of genetic engineering made it their own, establishing the sisterhood genetic and memetic template more or less as it is by the time of “Warp Dawn”, though their fortunes only really took off during the wormhole revolution.

The Sisterhood therefore is sort of the culmination of my world’s version of “women in STEM”, a vision of sex-segregated feminine dominance. Their distant origin is reflected in them retaining some of the flourishes of old money, such as dedicating themselves to the finest arts, being patrons, being gentleman (gentlelady?) scientists, and the like, and most especially their disposition toward running everything as leisured elites through sexual dominance and feminine wiles, with their men providing any non-leisure labor inputs that are needed.

This is a deliberate choice on my part. As a matriarchal culture I considered having the women assume all the masculine roles that don’t require brute strength, perhaps with greater female rather than male variability engineered in, but somehow sex-flipping the present-day order seemed dull. Retaining many (but not all!) traditional sex roles but flipping the power structure is much more interesting to me.

Organic Technology, feminine Technology?

The last aspect of the sisterhood that’s interesting is their attitude toward technology. Some cultures actively prefer mechanical technology, but our main characters’ culture prefers organic technology, tools made from (genetically-engineered) living things and natural materials, wherever feasible. Only when mechanical technology provides a great advantage do they use it.

The Sisterhood, on the other hand, use organic technology wherever possible, even if it leaves a substantial technological disadvantage on the table; only when they cannot do something at all with organic technology do they use mechanical technology. When the Sisters board our main characters’ ship they will be visibly uncomfortable with so much mechanical technology. They value the relationship between the human and another living thing. This, for example, might extend to their artificial intelligence being biological instead of mechanical, a vast network of living computers.

Conclusion

Well, that was a larger chunk of thinking than I thought I had to share! Most of this won’t make it into my novel, except as allusions and references, in any degree of detail. There’s potential for much more than one novel in all this, though, and I’m quite sure that after I complete “Warp Dawn” (I’m 36,000 words into it now, perhaps halfway through) I will revisit the Medabogovians and the Sisterhood, along with the other races, both included and not included, in the novel I’m working on.

I feel like I have quite a lot to work with, more than enough material perhaps for multiple novels, short stories, and books. I’ve also been giving more thought to focusing more on visual artworks, such as paintings and drawings, and there’s more than enough ideas for dozens of artworks. Heady stuff! You’ll definitely be seeing more in the future. In the meantime, keep a lookout for the completion and release of “Warp Dawn”.

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