Sunday, July 3, 2011

Idea Garage Sale: The Alien Zoo

I conceived this as a Sims2 neighborhood I'll never have the time, dedication, and custom content to run, but it could also serve as the setting for an extended literary parody ala Silverlock or the Thursday Next books. Possibly also a shared world anthology, twisting the model established by Thieves' World and perfected in Bordertown. I don't think it'd make a very good RPG setting, though I'm willing to be proved wrong.

The aliens have set aside a series of islands in which to maintain viable populations of other intelligent (or by their standards possibly semi-intelligent) species. Their technology allows them to treat time and space very differently from what we're used to, so from our point of view they select samples from wildly disparate times and places as well as environments, and they construct the islands in some way that permits observation at will without disturbing the exhibits. Each sample, consisting of everybody they happened to find within a particular household on a particular night, is transported along with its immediate environment while sleeping and set down in a suitable location on the island.

"Suitable" is an aliencentric notion, so the March family's modest Concord home may find itself next door to a single tenement from Dickens's London, inhabited by Fagin, Sikes, Nancy, Oliver, the Artful Dodger, and assorted other folks. The Bennet family may find itself forced to consider the suitability of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, Horatio Hornblower, Babbit, and Sir Lancelot as husband material for Jane, Lizzie, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia. Scarlet O'Hara, Melanie, and Mammy may be in a burned-out Tara with a view of Dracula's castle in one direction and an Iroquois longhouse in the other. King Arthur, Guinivere, and whichever knights weren't out questing (not to mention Morgan Le Fay) would have to adjust to a life without a tax base, and the inhabitants of the Little House on the Prairie would have their movements sharply restricted.

This would be intended as a human breeding colony by the aliens, so they'd be encouraged and manipulated into mingling and developing whatever hodgepodge sort of culture they could. Probably the aliens would arrange for some kind of educational system which would enable the colony to become more or less self-supporting and self-policing, and would interfere only when their own interests are threatened. Probably policies would fluctuate with changes of management, the alien political climate, and available funding; or it's possible that the policy would be consistent, but based on principles and implemented through a space-time continuum so foreign that it would seem to fluctuate from the point of view of the people affected. I envision Sherlock Holmes spending half his days trying to work out the rules governing the place and the other half desperately trying to get more tobacco.

The problem with this is that I don't have a plot at all, just a setting and more characters than anybody needs. Throwing the characters together would generate plenty of conflicts and hence stories, but this is exactly the kind of setting which sucks one into spending the whole time worldbuilding and none of it storytelling.

It's two in the morning and I can't shut my brain off. Maybe sending this out into the ether will help. Happy Independence Weekend, and don't forget to watch 1776! (The Laserdisc version if you can possibly get it.)


  1. This sounds like a series of books. As I type this "The Prisoner" t.v. series came to mind. It's an intriguing idea and maybe one worth re-examining in the future.

    Alberto Ramirez Jr.

  2. The great thing about ideas is that they don't go anywhere, they just wait around in your brain till needed. Right now the idea of developing this in any medium exhausts me. If you think you can do something with it, go right ahead! It'd be different from what I wind up doing even if I ever use it.

    If anybody does it as a Sims game, I hope they blog it, and I'll link from here. I figure the Alien Zoo concepts explains how you can start the game as an adult with no skills (suddenly your skills are irrelevant), and the unaging townies of Sims1 and 2 are artificial constructs made from sim DNA, which only start aging and become fully real when interactions with playables trigger some latent potential.

    Well, it's better than thinking about the heat death of the universe when you're lying awake at night, I guess...