Every now and then life presents an opportunity to make a point about something that has bugged me for years. I’m talking about the dairy planet.
I loved the first three seasons of the new Battlestar Galactica, with humanity on a giant exodus to the stars to avoid extinction. The rest of it was ok, and I watched it to the end. Enough said there. Nonetheless, like all massive works it had its flaws, and I need to nit pick one of them. There’s a scene where Dr. Gaius Baltar tries to explain the horrors of his abused childhood. He grew up on the dairy planet. It was all cows, mud, and manure, and wretched, wretched, wretched. He’s just about sobbing, and a person would have had to have a heart of stone not to laugh. I would have laughed, but I was having too much trouble suspending my disbelief. Really? A whole planet of dairy? What, it’s all Ireland? There are no deserts, no varied terrain or topography? No chickens? It evolved without people needing clothes, transportation, or smartphones? Wow. That’s some specialization for a whole damned planet.
This is one of those things they don’t seem to understand in movies or TV. Planets are huge. Just like ours. There was a Star Trek episode where everyone wore orange. I called it the Dana Buchman planet. (All her clothes in the department stores that year were orange. (And those alien orange clothes were not uniforms, so don’t suggest that: they swirled, and uniforms are not swirly.)) Here on Earth—which is a large planet—we have all sorts of industries, agriculture, peoples, races, and animals. It’s just not plausible that there’d be a whole planet doing nothing but dairy. The economics of it defy credibility. I understand it makes the story more simple to tell, but so would faster-than-light travel. Oh, wait. (Yeah, but there’s a rule somewhere that says you only get one unbelievable thing per story. Once you’ve picked FTL, that’s it. No acoustical levitation and no dairy planets.)
I finally finished drafting my third Waking Late book. It’s got a bunch of strife in it. The planet Nwwwlf, where the series takes place, looks great on the surface, but unlike most worlds that humans settle, it is not a giant rock that got properly and thoroughly terraformed. It has its own ecology, and it’s not hospitable to humans on the nutritional front. Most things don’t poison you, but if you ate only the crops of Nwwwlf you’d get all sorts of deficiencies, the kind that lead to beri beri, pellagra, scurvy, and other fun life events. I think of it as a giant Twinkie.
One colony ship went astray and found Nwwwlf (Not What We Were Looking For) and the people from it are trying to eke out a toehold in this world without any support from the rest of human civilization. (SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t read the second book): One settlement, First Landing, got all the early advantages of what terraforming infrastructure the starship had with it. In Out of the Dell we learn there’s another settlement, Seccon. And, yes, that’s short for Second Landing–space settlers aren’t good at names.
There are two settlements? And Gilead Tan is determined to free the original settlers still trapped and dying in their sleeping cells? That all means strife. At one point, after everyone has spent a lot of time, effort and bloodshed covering lots of ground and fighting each other, one character muses how all this activity has taken place within the equivalent of one small corner of North Carolina.
I liked writing that. I really liked it. I got to remind the reader of all sorts of things useful for the story and for worldbuilding (or shrinking), and I got to say “it’s a planet, for crying out loud, and planets are big!”by