Worldbuilding: It’s Just a Jump to the Left

Sometimes the most interesting worldbuilding you can do comes from taking the world as we know it, and juggling one or two different things that didn’t happen in real-life history… but maybe could have. Clockwork Heart supposes a society that centers around a lighter-than-air metal. River of Teeth tackles the more realistic what-if of, IRL in the 1860s Congress shot down the idea of importing hippos to the Mississippi River Basin. What if they’d thought it was a great idea instead?

(Anyone who knows the hippo was one of the Three Deadly Beasts of Ancient Egypt has a good idea where that ended up….)

One thing I was thinking about recently is, what if instead of going after silver and gold to trade to China in the age of the Manila Galleons, Spain had exported coffee as well?

It would have been possible. Coffee was being grown on Malta in the 1500s; enterprising people might have brought the plants to the New World centuries before they actually reached the Caribbean (in the 1700s). Brazil may be optimal coffee-growing habitat (and at the time definitely Portugal’s property) but there were plenty of good coffee-growing areas in the Empire of New Spain. It could have been done. And when coffee did reach Japan and Korea, it caught on; first among upper classes for the novelty, later through wide spectrums of people who wanted hot, bracing caffeine without the formalities of tea.

So maybe it wouldn’t have been that interesting a crop for China, specifically. But the Chinese traders in Manilla were in the same networks that traded with Japan and Korea, so it might have made a good middleman cargo. Chili peppers, corn, and potatoes sure caught on fast enough when they got to the area!

The point is, coffee as a trade crop exported to Asia would have changed things. What things? I’m not sure. But I can’t help but wonder what a jianghu jazzed on java might have looked like. Real flying leaps, anyone?

Take something interesting you like, and put it in a different setting. The results might be bracing!


20 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: It’s Just a Jump to the Left

      1. I mean, it’ll stop you of dying from dehydration (dysentery kills by causing really bad diarrhea which dehydrates you, and opiates do the opposite), but it’s not exactly the friendliest substance either.

        Liked by 2 people

  1. Yeah I thought hippos mostly harmless until I read Congo.

    Then I hit the books and learned hippos are actually very dangerous and territorial.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Its really hard to drain a swamp when you are up to your ears in hippos! However hippos are large and edible and we are a gunpowder society.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Yeah. Ever seen the ep of Mythbusters where they’re testing diving into water to prevent getting shot? While relatively low-power rounds like 9mm could cause injury even four to five feet deep if I’m remembering it right, everything high-power they tried turned into confetti after mere inches.

        And if you’re hunting hippo, you *want* the big guns. Then they hide under water and you’re lucky if you manage to see them before they bite you in half.

        They’re also incredibly agile underwater. For all their fairly plodding habits on land, oof. Getting into hippo water is a fast track to death.

        Heh. Reminds me of a phrase in a book I read – when you go hunting cape buffalo, you’re just as likely to end up the *hunted*.

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Counter submarine doctrine might be workable.

        Sonar to locate, and explosives to kill.

        Issue, I’ve doubts about reliably killing Hippo with easily used explosive charges.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Why was importing hippos to the Mississippi river even on the table? Food source? Are they even- edible’s not the word, palatable? Pest control? Someone had a fascination but Did Not Do Their Research?

    Can you just- take a moment to imagine how the Egyptians would react to the fact that some utter nut wanted to catch several bloody big, temperamental monstrosities with a collective death count and set them loose on their own people? Just trying to catch and hold them would likely take out at least half the hunting party, and then you’d have to ship them out, and eventually let them loose. And they might be awkward on land, but I’m pretty sure they are still faster than the average person. Especially when … ah,displeased.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The hippo import bill was pitched as dealing with the invasive water hyacinth. The idea is the hippos would munch down on them. Keeping them from choking the rivers and lakes it infested in the south eastern US. And as a bonus they could be used as livestock and the meat sold, since this was also the time the Malthusian idea was going around that the US had closed the frontier, so was soon going to run out of farm and grazing land. Thus semi-aquatic livestock would solve the ‘crisis’ by using rivers and other wetlands for further food supply.

      Very much “There was an old lady that swallowed a fly” solution. And I do remember how that story ended.

      As for a time displaced Egyptian? Their reaction if they read up on recent (then) US history? “So, you never did forgive that part of your lands for rebelling and want an excuse to punish them more?”

      Liked by 2 people

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