The first book could have been called The Princelings and the Great Energy Drain as this was the best I could think of when I first approached agents with my trilogy. I needed a problem for them to solve and the energy drain was a useful by-product of the time tunnel. The trouble is, in their rather low-tech society, what do they actually need energy for? Why is it such a big deal that it is draining? And how do they make it anyway?
A long time ago, when I was studying Environmental Ethics I wrote a note to myself about a science fiction story where all the electricity was provided by ‘green’ sources, and someone found coal and tried to sell fossil fuel energy to the world. It’s an interesting idea, and needs a lot more thought. How would a society start with green energy – it would have to be from wind and waterpower. Both wind and water mills and pumps are ancient technology. Person power is another possibility, although the thought of all those people on treadmills to make enough electricity for a castle fills me with horror. Saku does refer to that as a past method of generation in Hattan though. Fred refers to wind and water power at Marsh when he is talking to Lady Nimrod, and also some sort of pulley system. Victor mentions a game at the back of the inn where kids swing from ropes and help their power supply. I envisage this being a smaller version of Hattan’s rope system which Saku and George enjoy so much. It uses counter-weights to raise them up the levels, the pulleys create spin that can be used to generate electricity, and the counterweights’ potential and kinetic energy are also converted to useable energy. This seems to be different from Marsh’s pulley system as George does not recognise it.
Electricity seems to be used solely within buildings, at least in the early books. The development of strawberry juice power will, as Lupin surmises, change their society. The idea of a world running on strawberry juice emerged in the very first collaborative story-telling we did on the Rodents With Attitude forum (in fact it was an earlier version of that forum!) although it was rather more mystic than George’s machine. Saku describes the basis of strawberry juice power in the first book, and all George has to do, once he realises that a time paradox requires him to do it, is to develop this world’s first fuel cell. In a slight reversal of the current trends in fuel cells in our world, the strawberry juice plants are first considered for static use, in buildings or for manufacturing processes, but quickly George realises the use for small portable ones in transport. At first it is only the pioneers that adopt them of course. I have yet to work out how quickly they proliferate, although they are already changing their world in Victor’s story.
So what is it being used for, and why is the energy drain such a problem? We hear of kitchens and cooking, manufacturing foodstuffs (ale, cola). The drains we hear about ruin large and important castle gatherings, so it seems to be important in entertainment. Maybe they have loudspeakers or musical instruments amplified by electricity. They do have lighting, generally described as ‘glows’. The lights at Seventh Happiness are strung across the market place and are sufficiently bright for Kira to see the glow from the hole in the ground in which Seventh H sits from a long way off. Light pollution already! I envisage most of the heating being electrically based as well, although for warm air or water heating rather than radiant fires. Solar ovens are also well used though, and hay ovens used for baking. Persons do know how to make fires and cooking on them is a well-known skill, but the amount of wood that would need to be consumed means that this is generally a process that is frowned upon. Just as well, because guinea pigs do not like smoke.
M will be for manufacturing, so we can assume energy is also important for making all manner of goods necessary to the wellbeing of the population. But although an energy drain is inconvenient, embarrassing and also potentially dangerous, it is not the catastrophe that it is in The Machine Stops, for example. If you haven’t read that, do!