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Food wasn’t high on the list of
difficulties to tackle for a series of books about people from the sea,
with at least half the action taking place deep underwater. If I divided
up my world-building time for the Seaborn books more than half of it
would go to undersea combat and the kinds of powers, “bleeds”, magic,
breathing, as well as sorting out their limitations, how they are passed
to children, and other details. Most of the other half was in cultural
development, cities, history, interaction with the surface, social
structure, why a people who are apparently successful have such a low
population—in the millions.
But food proved to be more difficult than combat. Even if there’s magic involved in making things work in a fight, it can be applied to the weapon once. Everyone in battle-space doesn’t need to perform something crazy three times a day in order to sustain their strength and stop their tummies rumbling. Right off the bat I imagined—given their technology and powers—you could reduce friction and drag in the water for edged weapons and bolts from crossbows, and spearguns, so that battles didn’t look like thousands of free-falling astronauts spinning and fumbling in slow motion, taking mad swings at each other. And everyone looking stupid rather than dangerous or fierce.
Food wasn’t as easy to figure out. On the surface, Kassandra—the main character—can go to Starbucks or stop in for sushi and sashimi at Shizuko’s in Hampton. She was raised on the surface, but when she gets underwater and sees what the seaborn have out for what appears to be an edible arrangement, she’s disgusted by it. No potato chips, no bagels, no coffee. Just these little lumps or wrapped packages of something she has no need to try.
Raw fish, sliced and presented neatly, was an obvious choice because it didn’t require cooking and you could eat it with fingers—it worked underwater. But it was too obvious, too simple, and they can’t live on raw fish alone. In a typical surface kitchen you turn on the stove, you heat water, you make some pasta. In another pot you’re making a sauce. You serve it onto plates and you eat with forks, spoons, knives, chopsticks, sporks, fingers. Easy. In the deep ocean where the seaborn live I was looking at extreme temperatures, complete darkness, with most of the abyss cold, and water around hydrothermal vents reaching 800 F/426 C and NOT boiling because of the immense pressure. I had plumbing in seaborn cities to pipe this water and heat anywhere I wanted, but how do you cook with it? Food wrapped in ceramic containers, leaves? Where do those come from? Firing and glazing clay sounds difficult underwater. The seaborn have light—can make it—and so they can grow seaweeds, hundred-foot tall macrocystis—the large kelp forests you always see in video off the coast of California. Leaves were in, and they’re entirely plausible because that’s a common enough method for cooking on the surface, with food wrapped and steamed inside cabbage leaves, grape leaves, and others. Fish was clearly a center course—cooked or not, with many options for vegetable-like dishes.
I didn’t take eating much further than this in the three books because food didn’t play enough of a role in the plot, but it surprised me how much trouble it caused—more than breathing underwater, pressure, darkness, and combat, all of which could be handled with sufficient technology—or magic. Looking back, I wish I had given eating—especially the social aspect of gathering around food and drink—more thought. My logic went something like dolphins don’t know thirst and they don’t drink anything their entire lives, so why would the seaborn? I went with a limited approach to developing their eating conventions and left it at that—with some jabs by Kassandra and others about how unappealing their food was.
Overall it was the complexity around something as simple as what do you eat underwater that got me. The ocean’s a complex environment made up of many layered environments, and many are radically different meters apart. And stories set there have to deal with the environment. Even with something as complex as underwater acoustics, with negative thermoclines and capacity for changing over long distances I just had to do my research and let it play. Sound travels almost five times faster underwater than it does through the air, but apparently there’s no fast food in the deep. At least I didn’t find any.
They're not waterproof, but they are official Bicycle Playing Cards. I imagine a game would go pretty well for players who happen to like Kassandra. The real question is what would Kassandra's game be? Poker, blackjack, go fish? A game with extremely high stakes?
to this edition.
THESE chapters were not intended to form a whole by themselves, and had their Author possessed the opportunities of health and leisure, it is impossible to say what additions he might have made. It is certain, however, that the publication of a revised and complete edition had frequently been in his contemplation.
The Author had hoped that these chapters were to be only the first instalment of a credible study of the θάλασσογενηίς,—Sea-Born.
I have taken the liberty of including a small collection of hand-written Notes the Author intended for a future complete Edition of the book. That these Notes are not drawn up with the care which the Author would have bestowed on them before he presented them to the publick eye, will be apparent to the Reader on the slightest comparison with the two Chapters, and I must ask the Reader’s forgiveness for their state. I have gathered the Notes from the Author’s private journal and marginalia in earlier works. However, I would not have included them without sufficient reason or need, primarily that if these Notes were not made publick, they would have been, in time, lost to all the world.
Finally, it is common to all studies to be imperfect while they are in their infancy, and the Reader should not make an exception for the present work, nor fault the Author for at times, as Dryden says, looking “at the wrong side of the tapestry.”
THE AUTHOR, before his death, wished to convey his gratitude to two gentlemen; —the first, his friend and mentor, Professor J. W. Helmwhitt, and the second, a most virtuous, wise, and eloquent Gentleman of The Sea who, in the course of two years relating the histories, movements, and political structure of the Sea-Born to the Author, would only give his name as Telchines.
Ipswich, Octr 4, 1810.
I'm packing up a couple copies of Saltwater Witch, signing them for the GoodReads giveway that just finished (Almost 1200 people registered for the books, which is very cool). I'm including the print below, folded neatly inside the book. Just need to box them up and get them in the mail!
Are we slowly moving away from the codex format for books? Who knows. In the meantime--well, at least this summer--I'm going to be making scrolls! Here's the link to a good view of the entire piece:
I'm working on a prototype scroll--and I mean twelve feet of illustration rolled onto two scroll bars that can be rolled out on a tabletop. See the full pic for a snapshot of one section of the illo as well as me sawing one of the bars and rolled out shot from the printers.
Click for the full view: