In the previous post (here) I’ve dedicated some thought about a few possible choices for our imaginary hero against the local civilization; in the first post for this series (here), the focus was about the local environment. This post is about the use of the exotic technologies and how our bold character could survive using it.
The golden age of this genre (more on the side of the sword and planet) show as recurrent the hero as able to use whatever device that came in his/her control. Flying machines, bizarre weapons, unfamiliar blades and so no, it’s all the same. Within seconds the hero is able to use everything and to master any device, often outclassing his/her opponents. This is optimistic at best, not to mention the notion of “impossible” that come up easily at the thought.
The first consideration is about the starting level of our hero; is he/she trained to use weapons and vehicles? Is the hero proficient when it comes to the old USMC say “adapt, improve, overcome”? How quick our main character will be to grasp a new concept? Think about John Carter; a war veteran from the XIX° century skilled in the use of a cavalry saber and expert marksman. Sounds good for a start, isn’t it? He could also grasp the concept of manned flight (observation balloons were in use in the Civil War), but what about piloting an aircraft? Or what about using close-range weapons of different shapes (and weight) far different from a saber? And again, riding a horse could be compared with riding huge lizards?
In the same world, a soldier from our time will likely have a head start with some of the machines, but he/she will be at disadvantage with swords and spears. See the picture? Without proper training, being effective with any device is quite difficult. Without proper knowledge, grasping the concept of having to use a device is also difficult. So we can have our hero fumbling around, always a step behind the locals that have years of experience in any given task. Of course, the main character has to be quite resourceful (McGyver, where are you now?) but he/she will need time to adjust and the plot could become interestingly complicated while this happen.
Thinking about a couple of scenarios, we could have a hero that comes from a very civilized age, sent or trapped in a low-level tech world. While trying to survive on the new planet, he/she will probably try to reinvent something useful, but what about the technologies needed? Without an advanced level in chemistry and in metallurgy, you can’t have firearms. It takes much more to train anybody without enough people able to read and write, and so on. Our main character will need a lot of work and patience to get some progress done. Even assuming a whole bunch of talented locals available and a lot of resources to play with, the idea of making a significant breakthrough will be more a hope than a real perspective.
The opposite situation could be more simple, so to speak. A barbarian hero, all fight-oriented and with very basic needs, posed in a highly civilized world. It’s true that he/she will not need to understand all the science needed to create/build the gadgets (c’mon, how many here know first-hand the basics of a computer?) and it’s also true that a lot of menial tasks could be easily learned. On the other hand, using a device does not mean correctly use a device. The choice of mistakes are huge, not to mention consequences.
At the end of this little series of post, we have at hand a confused hero. The new planet could be lethal or very problematic for him/her, the local society (if any) could plainly refuse to accept his/her presence and the technology available could easily be awkward to use. It looks like that our main character get a lot more than usual in his/her hands to handle. But we’re talking about heroes here. People full of resources, whose force of will can overcome almost everything, always at the ready to do whatever is needed to win. The basic requirements of this genre give us this kind of prototype, doesn’t it? So, what about taking another step forward and imagine a different kind of hero? A woman or a man that looks absolutely inept to survive, not to mention accomplish heroic tasks?
See you next week, the post will be about world building.