The Gaian World in the Iskander Series.

I guess I must like world building. The original scenario of anachronistic developments in a pre-18th century world occupied my attention some time before the first of the novels took shape. I’ve always been interested in military history as it relates to the development of technology, and my first thoughts were to explore the results of introducing later knowledge and materiel into an earlier society. This would have been best in a computer simulation, but I gave up coding to spend time writing and decided to paint it as a narrative instead.

That explains the military action in “The Wildcat’s Victory”, when Gisel commands a very anachronistic cavalry formation in actions against armies of 1700 vintage. She has a very small force and the enemy a very large one because the fiction requires some balance and suspense, and so somewhere the odds have to be equalized. But the reality of the doctrines of fire versus cold steel do make the critical factor in her successes to be the realistic one of ammunition supply. Her troops can hold their own only as long as their ammunition holds out. She fights with most of the tactics cavalry used in the Civil War, but without the railroads to bring forward the supplies she needs. Which is why Yohan, her lover, appears in the nick of time with a supply train in commandeered oxcarts bringing forward the ammunition the Partnerships steam tugs and barges have brought up the river.

But I have explored more than the effects on military tactics in the series. In “Arrival”, the Iskanders land on Gaia with revolutionary knowledge but absolutely no resources with which to develop them. They have no cash. There is a small workshop and automated factory aboard the starship, and most of the units are portable so they can be brought down when a secure location can be found for them. Which is the reason for the series focus on security. The law in those days was in the hands of a nobility whose first loyalty was to their class. (Well, that’s really not too different than today, but the Iskanders were not in the right class.)

The Iskanders are foreigners to everyone, and foreigners were always treated very shabbily in all societies before the creation of International Laws and their Conventions. For example, prisoners of war did not have the rights to fair treatment and the same rations as the capturing army – even to protection from arbitrary torture or death – until the middle of the 19th century.

When the Iskanders in “Arrival” look to found their society on Gaia around their manufacturing and medical abilities they immediately come up against two big obstacles. There are no sources of venture capital, and no recognized standards of practice. When they find that it could take years to work their way into amassing enough capital to build their steelworks they are obliged to take the same route that Europeans in our own history used – steal it from someone who couldn’t hold onto the gold and silver they had accumulated over the centuries – or steal it from those who had just stolen it from others. They had to go buccaneering in the New World, as did the Spanish, the English, the French and the Dutch.

The currencies on Gaia when the Iskanders arrive are those of coinage. Notes of exchange were purely mercantile conveniences and useable only between enterprises with long histories and close relationships. Providing security for a loan could be very onerous, as Antonio learned in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice when his pledge of ‘a pound of flesh’ became due. The advances that Iskander introduces to the local society include the establishment of commercial banking, bourses, and modern marine insurance, but these are not accepted by the Gaians before Iskander has gained its reputation in war and manufacturing .

I had to devise the system of coinage for Gaian society by comparing its currencies to our own and doing some interpolation. The main unit of exchange is the Ducat, generally a silver coin containing 5grams of silver. For larger values, the gold 10 Ducat coin of 5grams of gold is used. Smaller coins of silver include the silver Thaler, worth on fifth of a Ducat and the Lingdish Shilling of a tenth of a Ducat. There are also Groats of copper worth a tenth of a Shilling. You will note I used decimal coinage, rather that the 12 pennies, sixpences, and farthings of the old British coinage I grew up with – entirely for my own convenience whenever I needed to include a monetary transaction in the text.

Again for convenience, I had the basic rate of wages to be one Ducat a day for a middle class gentleman (Gisel gets this as her Lieutenant’s wage), a wealthy man gets 10 Ducats a day and a really rich man would expect 50 or more per day. Going in the other direction a workman would expect to earn a tenth of a Ducat, a Shilling a day, and a poor person would have to get by on a few Groats. Iskander introduces a regular scheme of remuneration into its workshops, ships and armies, which is more generous than the equivalent Gaian scale, but not extravagantly so. It also has a savings and pension scheme for its staff as well as free medical care and education in a welfare package that all its employees share in.

You might be interested to know how Gaian wages compare to ours. When I started the first world building back in the 90s I figured a Ducat should be equivalent to $100 (Canadian or US), but inflation soon made a nonsense of that. Today I reckon a Ducat is $200. This comes out quite well in the range of our own financial scale. When Nixon took the $ US off the gold standard in 1973 and ounce of Gold was worth $35. Today Gold drifts around the $800 to $1000 mark (depending on the degree of hysteria in the markets) and if you compare that in terms of 1973 dollars, gold is worth from $10,000 to $17,000 an ounce, depending on whose figures you want to use. With Gaian gold worth about 57 Ducats to the ounce my Gaian economic system operates on gold worth $11,400 an ounce – well within the ballpark.


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2 Responses to “The Gaian World in the Iskander Series.”

  1. joylene Says:

    I’m stunned at how difficult creating Gisel’s world was. I watched a documentary on Mayan culture and the largest find ever. It made me think of the monumental undertaking you took on in writing the Iskander Series. And I thought the research I need on the Vietnam War was huge.

    This was a very educational article, Chris.

    Do you think what you created would have been easier had it been actual history? Or did creative license help?

    • kester2 Says:

      Thanks Joylene:

      I guess it would have been a great deal of research if I’d done it at one time for this purpose. Even a fictional world can soon become very complex, but 99% of this background came to me over a number of years, and most in reading I’ve done for my own interests. Even the economics, which as a topic is as dry as a hundred year old bone, can be interesting if you hit the right writers. I’ve been reading the economists who were ignored until this latest crash came, and they’re great fun with all their ‘I told you so’ articles.

      Fitting this material into a fictional world is a great deal easier than attempting to recreate any one period exactly. That can be too easy to screw up because the historical facts can be specific to short time periods and limited geographical areas. What I do is mix and match fearlessly, because I want to create the impression of a 17th century world, not write a treatise on one.


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