Worldbuilding: Some Research Thoughts

The stories that come out well (or anyway get written to the end) are those where I have at least one, preferably two striking scenes that the plotbunnies keep coming back to. I currently have two for the 1618 isekai, that seem like they ought to be spaced at least a story apart. One’s more of a “quiet recovery/ oh bleep I’m in another world” scene.

The other… starts out quiet. But it’s the beginning of a mass rescue, and things quickly get very sticky when the bad guys holding the kidnapped victims decide they’re too noisy and unruly, and need to be taught a potentially fatal lesson. Which, of course, kicks off a fight scene, hampered by our heroes trying to kill the bad guys quietly. So they don’t bring a whole foreign city down on their heads; they are not local, and the authorities not only wouldn’t rule in their favor, they probably wouldn’t let our heroes escape alive.

The quiet scene, I have most of the research for. Though I need to figure out good Korean names for civilized merfolk vs. the pirate barbarian kind. And look into international flights so I can invent a flight number for Jason to have been on.

The later scene… I’m identifying things I need to find. So far they include: Folksongs in various Asian languages. A rough map of some cities in Mexico. Historical info to establish whether this rescue would be most likely in Mexico City or in some port on the Gulf of Mexico. Modern-day info on what Special Forces-type guys (or possibly even “private security”) might be sent through an otherworldly portal on a rescue mission. And especially what logistical support they have on the other side of the portal. They can’t just appear out of a magic helicopter. They have to get from point A to point B. And even if you can move the portal-generating equipment (I doubt that’s easy), I suspect no one from the U.S. government would let it be set up in Mexico. Too many places where the Mexican government is outgunned by the drug dealers and kidnappings for ransom are a booming industry.

(Note, I’m not exactly keen on the U.S. government having it either. But given the portal was most likely created by mad particle physicists, or some such esoteric specialists, the government is likely to have several fingers in the pie.)

Hmm. And I need to check where that kind of research into wormholes and particle physics is going on, besides the CERN supercollider. Something this world-shaking ought to happen in a more out of the way place, to keep the rest of the world from going berserk. It’s possible I’ll have to invent a spot; the modern year is going to be at least a decade ahead of now, so that’s doable. But I’d like to stick close to real life.

Also need to check on when yellow fever and malaria got to the Americas; smallpox I know is already there. A lot of military types get smallpox vaccinations, but anyone they’re rescuing might be in trouble….

(Also will need to run the military stuff by someone. Who, don’t know yet.)

So. What would you want to pull off a hostage rescue in about 1620s Mexico?

45 thoughts on “Worldbuilding: Some Research Thoughts

  1. Hey, if you’re having trouble figuring out the needed vaccines, so should the heroes or their backers. But the yellow fever vaccine wouldn’t be hard. Even civilians can get one, granted at certain pharmacies, not all of them.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Regarding the old cities of Mexico. I can’t find any maps dating to that exact timeframe but my guess based on the oldest one I can find with a quick Google search is that the major cities would be Mexico City, Veracruz, Acapulco, Merida, Corrientes, Campeche, and possibly Soto la Marina. Those are the ones written in the boldest hand on the map, at any rate. The old cities of the native people have probably been completely destroyed by the Spanish by 1618. … Which, with your whole premise of introducing magic to a world that hadn’t had any before could have some interesting consequences for those ruined cities. Shall the dead speak and their bodies rise from their graves to wage a new war upon the Spanish invaders?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Most of the new Spanish cities _were_ old Aztec/etc. cities.

      Obviously, with all the GIANT BLOODY SKULL RACKS OF DOOM RIGHT DOWNTOWN, the Spanish had to do a certain amount of renovations.

      I also have the impression that the Spanish didn’t have the manpower to keep up all the existing canals and water “streets,” so they filled some of them in.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. IIRC, the Spanish invasion force that toppled the Aztecs was, *maybe*, 300 men total? Nowhere near enough to conquer such an enormous empire — their tech advantage was nowhere near big enough.

        What *really* destroyed the Aztecs was their neighbors. *Everyone* hated the Aztecs — the entire region was a powder keg ripe for a spark. And the Spaniards *were* a mighty good spark. But even if the Spaniards hadn’t shown up, AIUI the Aztec empire would have been dogpiled by all their neighbors within a decade or two.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Recognizing that you have a chance is critical. There’s a reason Napoleon once said of a prospective general, “I don’t care if he is good, I care if he is lucky!”

        Because luck only works if you can see and take advantage of it!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Aztec Triple Alliance.

      One of several polities in the area, and not friends with the others. Aztecs were ethnically Mexica.

      I suspect that the Aztecs were not the only city dwellers in the area.

      The grand strategy of the Aztec Triple Alliance was to war with and maybe semi-subjugate their neighbors. The purpose of the wars was captives to use as sacrificial victims for the state cult of the Aztec Triple Alliance.

      So, the other polities were hostile enough to the Aztecs that they were very willing to ally with the Spanish against the Aztecs. Their cities are maybe not going to throw a bunch of zombies or ghosts at the Spanish.

      Mexico City /was/ a Aztec city, I believe it was the chief one. But, the Aztec Triple Alliance were very industrious murderers, sorta the old mesoamerican Axis Powers. There may well be more spirits there pissed off at the Aztec state cult than there were spirits of folks killed by the Spanish. Depends on how COQ chooses to model the pain, death and blood magic that the religious practices would have involved, if magic were real.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. LWJ: “Note to self, keep WWX far, *far* away from this ‘Meksiko city’. Or any place on that continent. In fact, avoiding that planet entirely is a good idea.”

        Liked by 1 person

  3. My understanding of the current state of wormhole research is that they’ve drawn some pretty pictures, and they haven’t proven it’s impossible… yet.

    The model that comes up in fiction a lot is to imagine space as a rubber sheet, pull it up until points A and B are close, then punch a hole through the sheet connecting them.

    The first issue is pulling the sheet.
    The only direct way currently known to manipulate space is tied in to mass and gravity. (Anti-gravity?)

    The second issue is where are you pulling the sheet from? And to?
    In the model, the “pulling point” is not at A or B, and it’s being pulled much further than either of the points end up moving.

    Going to a parallel work might actually be easier for this step since the pull point and direction would presumably be outside either dimension and you can make up whatever rules you want.

    Or it could be the wormhole is formed when the points are far away, then they’re pulled together by the wormhole itself.
    Like reeling in a fish.
    That brings up questions about aiming.

    Then there’s the “punching a hole” part and all the potential hazards there.
    Does space need hemming?
    Do they have a grommet?

    Honestly you might want to see if you can come up with a beading metaphor.
    Just for novelty.
    I’m kinda sick of all the fabric/paper ones.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the closest beading metaphor is the one about space and time being like a rope with thousands of strands all touching a twining around each other. The Superstring theory.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. What is funny about the “space is like fabric” metaphor is how old it is…

      Isaiah 40:22b reads…
      “[It is He] who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in.”

      This was pointed out to me by my mother (who is not into physics at all) because of how similar it sounded to all the metaphors about Relativity making space behave like a kind of fabric.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Re: spec ops without helicopters

    Dorothy Grant has gotten a lot of info from her husband, Peter Grant, and family friends.

    (Her Combined Operations books, ‘tactical romance’, are pretty metal, would recommend.)

    The western/shock infantry style troops in Africa, back in the day, did carry out special operations on some very sparse logistics. Forex, South Africa supplied/loaned some people who operated in RLI uniforms.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Re: Physics

    Some of this research has been coming up in my own interests.

    Last time I was talking DtB here, I concluded that there must have been a mistranslation for Cherenkov radiation. Nope. Cyclotrons and Synchrotrons do have radiation, and there is a wiki page for now for Synchrotron Radiation, and also for Synchrotron Light Source.

    I’m mostly at the wiki walking stage where my physics reading is concerned.

    ‘Collider’, ‘list of accelerators’ and ‘list of synchrotron radiation facilities’ may be of some interest to you.

    My summary of the physics situation:

    You can draw a dividing line between physics and engineering. The line is in approaches to mathematical models of physical phenomena. Engineering uses a bunch of carefully curated simple models, that can be applied to problems quickly and routinely, and which are good enough. Physics is basically ‘all of the models too complicated for the engineering world to mess with’.

    Physicists specialize in a type of phenomena, and within that type, or types, they have the subset of complicated models that they have studied, worked with, and refined.

    Pure applied mathematicians, pure mathematicians, and physicists work together to develop and refine complicated models that are beyond the current state of the art in mathematics, and in physical knowledge.

    Modern physics may be a bunch of epicycles, an infinite fourier series of fudge factors correcting theory that is skewed in some way. (Some commentators consider ‘dark energy’ proof of this.)

    We have data for anything we have spent the money to carefully measure in lab. This is not data for everything that we could possibly measure, that space is much too big, and is really expensive to search.

    We also use some assumptions to look at some stars, and compare that information to models. If those assumptions are way off, so too will be what we ‘learn’ from astronomy.

    We can get to a lot of the easy experimental spaces in condensed matter physics. But, there are still, especially for gases, conditions very hard to achieve, about which little is known, that we certainly don’t have datasets and theory easily available and accessible, that will let anyone perform certain calculations. Chemistry, thermodynamics, and fluid mechanics have a lot more ’empty’ empirical spaces, where theory has little reliable purchase, than most people realize.

    Particle physics is similar. It has a lot of complicated models, not enough information is available to decide, and we are only slowly able to get the new information.

    A lot of the tools used for particle physics experiments are instruments in the category of ‘very large rings that operate on electromagnetic principles’. Colliders, accelerators, etc. One issue, we don’t understand electromagnetics as well as you might guess that we do. Our numerical models, for certain applications, need to be tested carefully against empirical data. This contributes to such rings having intensive data processing demands simply to operate the controls of the instrument. Two, this obviously is going to suck down some power to operate. Three, mechanically, we want large sizes, and since we are trying to keep tiny things aligned, the apparatus is sensitive to vibration, and you need to be able to compensate for the vibration. Compensation means more data processing. So, to save on that, you want some place very geologically stable. North America is less populated, but North America is geologically being crushed, which is raising the rockies, and can cause earthquakes in many places. Four, we are still learning more about designing such instruments, and some design choices have to be made before initial construction. These are pretty long lead time items.

    On the happy side, the readers who know, care, and will hold you to fault are often not going to be the readers into portal fantasy.

    Anyway, the nitty gritty hardware side of making these instruments work is actually something that you might not hear abotu from a lot of places. For sure I could not tell you. But, they are definitely trickier than you would think at first. Thankfully, you probably do not need to know.

    I think it would be fine to put it in the middle of the desert in the American southwest. If you look at lists of US federal funded research facilities, etc, there is at least one obvious candidate. But, with the way the US feds operate this stuff, an alternate universe modern America could easily have an additional organization build a facility somewhere else. Either originally a secret facility in the middle of nowhere, or adjacent to a convenient university.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This vast sea of no data when it comes empirical testing is part of why it may still be possible to develop humanly useful fusion. It is simply a large space to search, and maybe also we do not entirely understand the electromagnetic physics well enough when we are trying to use it to mess with that matter.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. And that’s not even touching on the Unintended Consequences part of any sort of scientific research and/or developement. A scientist can say “I’ve discovered a way to create a wormhole!”, develop the support structure necessary for utilization … and may still have to say, 10-20-30 years down the road, as the world’s geology destabilizes, “I had no idea my wormholes would cause this!”

        Liked by 1 person

    2. There are a bunch of devices that started out in physics, and got moved over into engineering, once folks decided that the fundamental theory was stable enough, trustworthy, simple, and close enough to what existing engineering programs were already teaching.

      Lasers are apparently still mostly a physics thing.

      Solid state physics still means that some transistor stuff is physics, but maybe a lot of transistor stuff is engineering now?

      Also, when I say that physicists learn a subset of complicated theory? There may be a dozen competing thoeries, and one studies two or three. Or several dozens of theories for an area, and someone is understanding a dozen. I am very much not a physicist, I only have a very crude notion of what they mess with.

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  6. How big are the portals? How long are they open for, or how long can they be opened for? What are the power* requirements? What is the level of precision and tolerance for locations on this and the other side?

    How far is the area of operations? If you can control this side, and the far side of the portal, you could potentially build** an airfield, and some facilities for fabricating aircraft. If you can get enough aviation gas through the portal, you don’t need to consider developing a far side source of fuel and of spare parts. Then, it is a matter of some more primative aircraft designs that are better in rough/no fields, or a VTOL. If you have range and a landing site, good, if not, bad.

    The US could easily have a VTOL in ten-fifteen years, that was designed and not announced, this year or last year. The design space seems to be in the middle of rapid change, supposing the talk is not all hype.

    Anyhow, the Canadian Great Plains, and Canadian west coast come to mind. From a joking PoV, I recall understanding that much of SG1 was shot in Canada, so (brief internet search) British Columbia might be an amusing place to put the portal. But, Canadian open areas have five points that drew my attention before that a) not currently under US federal control b) sparsely populated c) I can believe that the Canadian government may be up to no good d) I can believe that a security situation in Canada could degrade to the point where a future US could take over some territory e) not China or Russia. Beyond the joke, and the five points, BC may have some good hydroelectric resources for powering the thing.

    If you really do not want political stability, South America or even Africa could potentially have some possibilities. (Checks. Yeah, Argentina, Brazil, Sahara, South Africa, and Australia have some population sparsities. If you exclude Brazil for accessibility, Argentina for the ring of fire, and maybe also Australia for the ring of fire, you have some good possibilities.)

    *(Past certain levels of demand, you have special lines run from the power company, these are a bit routine in industry. Past another level of demand, you build a power plant near by, and either operate it yourself, or pay a power company to do so.)

    **Air Force, and Navy, have, or have had, ideas along those lines. “We’re the SeaBees of the Navy, we can fight and we can build…”

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Re: aircraft fabrication

        There are a lot of different methods.

        There are a lot of old designs that folks know about. Drawings for the tooling for the parts can be harder to come by, and to do anything with even where you do have it. But, every aerospace engineering program in the world produces at least a few new airplane designs in some stages of development, and aeronautical engineers produce a fair number of designs simply as a hobby. Designs are very available, the cost is in making and refining prototypes, and the bureaucratic certification processes.

        Some types of composite body, the layup methods and the design are robust enough that you could pack in the cloth and the glue, and do the fabrication in fairly rough field conditions. I’m pretty sure this doesn’t scale to passenger aircraft of any size.

        So, metal aircraft riveted and welded together. Make the parts on this earth, semi assemble them here, and final assembly in a hanger over there. With the right design selection, this would be doable. Or you could pull the wings off to make the airplane fit lengthwise.

        But, exactly knowing the real world designs to do what with is probably a skillset, that is specialized within aerospace engineering and manufacturing engineering.

        Again, VTOLs.

        There are some nice efforts there.

        Sabrewing’s prototype is too small, but it is the most recent test flight that I recall hearing about.

        There’s also some neat stuff going on with long persistence airplane efforts. One of those may be quite a bit more practical to launch from the other earth than any sort of satellite. Because overhead surveillance and coms can be pretty useful.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. military trucks are made for carrying heavy stuff on no roads, in some cases.

        So, a far end that isn’t always matching a same point of ground to the same point of ground is not necessarily a problem.

        What would b a problem, is too narrow for vtol or helicopters, and trucks cannot coutn on a different in ground hieght that is not reliably survivalble, or operable, afterwards.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Which, of course, kicks off a fight scene, hampered by our heroes trying to kill the bad guys quietly. So they don’t bring a whole foreign city down on their heads; they are not local, and the authorities not only wouldn’t rule in their favor, they probably wouldn’t let our heroes escape alive.

    Ah, Russian Stealth– nobody can raise the alarm if there’s nobody alive who saw you!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s even better when my husband uses his Very Cheesey Russian Accent to announce it’s Russian Stealth and then uses whatever his biggest “kill everything” ability is, in table top games.

        ….I’m a sucker for chewing the scenery.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. And even if you can move the portal-generating equipment (I doubt that’s easy), I suspect no one from the U.S. government would let it be set up in Mexico. Too many places where the Mexican government is outgunned by the drug dealers and kidnappings for ransom are a booming industry.

    Could the stuff have been stolen and set up?

    Then you could have the guys sent to recover it… quietly… ending up through it?


  9. :is thinking:

    If I remember the theory for “there was really a very large American population and Smallpox wiped it out,” just teaching basic nursing and sanitation practices would stop the whole “wipes out tons of folks.”

    As high as the fatality rate for nursing-staff was with small pox, it *did* mean more folks lived. You get the folks who are “would die without nursing” through it– that’s a good 3/4 of the deaths, before things like “and there were no adults, so the kids all died because there was no food.”

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Honestly, the specific disease only matters if there isn’t a cultural coping mechanism that cuts spread but increases mortality.

        Like cultures that have cannibalism traditions for burial — they’ll have issues with some diseases more than others.

        If “everyone is sick, this place is cursed, run away” is a mechanism– you’re going to have a lot higher fatality rate.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I grew up in an area that was “cursed.”

        …it had no iodine.

        Anybody who lived there for more than a season or so sickened and died.

        “people are sick, leave” was functional.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. The Christian idea of it being an inherent good to die if you were nursing the sick doing so made Europe have a lower fatality rate– modern ideas of sanitation would lower the fatality rate even more, without needing vaccines.

      The theory is that a lot of tribes went “wow, tons of folks are weirdly sick, I need to run away fast.”

      Liked by 1 person

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