“Do-Over”: Part Three, Setting

A summary of what has gone before.

  1. Do-Over is a story about a man from modern times cast into a primitive past. The man, JD, is a competent man with an autism-like disorder. In the beginning of the story his “true” age is 67 but his physical age is somewhere around 18-20.
  2. The inspiration for the story come from two widely-recognized sources: Rumiko Takahashi’s InuYasha and Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (“Yankee”).
  3. Part of Do-Over is deliberately educational.

I’ve established JD in a new universe. How does he know? Suppose you were transported to another universe where the plants and animals were similar enough that you couldn’t tell the difference and the people are humans and speak your language. How would you know you were in a different universe?

The first thing I’d do is look up at the night sky. There’s a reference we can use, and it doesn’t take an astronomer to see it. Is there a moon? Does it look different? What about the stars? We have many familiar constellations: the Dippers Big and Little, Orion, Sagittarius, and in the south the Southern Cross and Hercules. And then there are planets.

For you, then, looking up at the night sky will tell you something’s different. JD’s a scientist and, with his background, would certainly notice small differences you might not. However, to make this point to those readers who don’t look up at night I need more than “I can’t find Arcturus.” In our universe, in a dark rural area with a clear sky, you can see about 2,000 – 3,000 stars on any given night. What could be more obvious than removing 90% of those stars? JD’s night sky has only about 200 stars visible, even with no light pollution and a clear sky.

To reinforce this idea, all of the stars JD sees are very dim and he makes note of that. But there’s another reason for having very few stars beyond the simple “I’m in a different universe”: a plot point. I’ll discuss that in Part Four: Characters and Part Five: Miscellany.

In various parts of the text JD makes an off-hand remark about some scientific concept and tries to teach that concept to his audience (and you, the reader). Sometimes he just explains what it means in a sentence or three. In this way my story has educational aspects but they do not interfere with the story; you can skip them and they don’t affect the story (except when they need to, of course).

As with any work of fiction, the world can either be a part of the plot or not – but if it isn’t it should not interfere with the plot. I decided to make this an Earth-like world, and world-building is the quintessential exercise in playing with ideas.

  • There are no large herbivores, the largest being goats and sheep. This is plausible. North America had only one large herbivore, the bison, for almost 8,000 years between The Great Overkill (extinction of mammoths and giant sloths) and when Europeans brought cattle (Columbus) and horses (Spaniards). I introduce horses to the story in One and One Make One because I need them there; I don’t need them before that.
  • There are no large carnivores, the largest being wolves.
  • There are no dogs or cats. I introduce dogs in One and One Make One as a plot point.
  • This is a male-dominated society; women are for cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing. My main female, Mya, rebels against that in several ways, and JD supports her (my way of arguing against the concept of male domination). There are other strong female characters (see Part Four).

That’s enough for now; there are other things but I’ll let you discover them for yourself. That’s part of the fun, right?

Back in Part One, when I introduced JD I remarked, “he’ll need some survival skills or he’ll die before the story gets moving.” Like JD, you will have to wait and discover those skills over time. However, one of them is critical, and a lot of fun to think about: how does JD communicate in his new universe?

In both InuYasha and “Yankee” the main characters speak the language of their new location: Kagome because she’s still in Japan and Hank because he’s in England. Leaving aside for the moment that Arthur’s English would be incomprehensible to modern English speakers, and even Chaucer’s English is difficult, the language barrier is a common problem in any story placing the hero in a strange land. Usually authors get around this problem in one of three ways.

  1. Use the character’s own language in some unexplained way.
  2. Magic or technology: a translator pendant, a spell, something.
  3. Language lessons.

Language lessons are tedious for the reader. Holding up objects and naming them is boring enough, not to mention potentially confusing. Pointing to oneself and saying “Homer!” could be construed as “My name is Homer” or “I am a Homer,” an intelligent being or a member of the Home society. Authors wanting realism include these exchanges but cover them quickly.

“She proceeded to call out the organs of the legger which corresponded to hers. Thus, the preparations for the meal passed swiftly… she had exchanged at least forty words with him. After an hour he remembered twenty.” – My Sister’s Brother, Philip Jose Farmer.

Do-Over covers JD’s life in some detail, so while I could handle it that way I don’t want to; I want JD to be able to communicate right off the bat. The world in Do-Over is neither magical nor technological so I can’t use those methods, and I want JD in another universe so English is out. What am I left with?

When JD is between universes he receives a set of four gifts from the people who brought him here. I call those beings The Ancients (all right, so I was a little lazy there). We’ve seen one gift: he’s young again. You and JD learn of the second gift, the gift of tongues, early on: JD by accident, you by virtue of the reader’s perspective.

Consider the ramifications of such a gift. JD thinks, speaks, and hears English, but the gift of tongues translates his English into any other language and, in reverse, translates that language into English so he can understand it. Only he has this gift, others do not share it, and it does not extend beyond him. Suppose JD starts in Italy, communicating in Italian, and people follow him as he travels through France, Basque country, and Spain. When he arrives in Barcelona and addresses his followers, what do they hear? All four languages at once? If so, that would be a miracle (magic). It also has no plot value in Do-Over. I don’t want to completely give up on foreign language issues; there are some ideas I can use.

Let’s revisit the example. In Barcelona, when JD speaks to the Italians everyone there hears Italian. To speak in Spanish he has to focus on the Spanish people – and then everyone hears him speaking Spanish. Why is this a useful plot point? If everyone hears JD speaking their own language at the same time he looks like a miracle worker. If, instead, they hear him speaking the language of the people he’s talking to, he’s seen as a normal human being who happens to know the language. There’s another advantage: when JD’s alone (or when he doesn’t know there’s anyone around) he speaks English. I don’t use that too often, but when I do it’s to make things interesting.

This brings up another point: writing. In both InuYasha and “Yankee” the written language is the same as the spoken one. JD writes in English; the language of his new world is a combination of logographic and alphabetic images that isn’t English. In Do-Over, a sign has a picture of something (e.g., the sign for poison or danger) and we understand what that means. The advantage that gives me is the ability to draw signs with one or two relatively simple pictures without having to invent an alphabet or language. On those rare occasions when I need an alphabetic view I’m using a runic-like alphabet, mostly because it’s easy to draw.

You may ask why JD is able to hear and speak the language but not write it. Obviously speech and literacy are two different skills. But, more important for the story, I need some reason to have Mya hang out with JD: she’s teaching him to read and write. Remember, I want Mya to be a strong character who makes her own decisions, not one who swoons over “tall, dark, and handsome.” Some women in the village do; JD considers them shallow and isn’t interested in them. Mya is different: she’ll take her time deciding if a person is a good partner for her.

Finally there is some humor inherent in JD learning to read and write. Consider this example from the book, a letter of apology.

I do not anger, I afraid for you. No excuse shout. I beg forgive.

After several months he’s still writing like a kid.

But enough of that. Part Four, Supporting Characters, discusses characters from allies to villains and everything in between.

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