I was imagining something weird again. This is unlikely to surprise regular readers, I suspect…
Actually it is not the worldbuilding that is inferior, although that may also be true. Rather it is the world itself, most notably its people, among them even the Servants of the Light.
I admit that it was Rabbi Steinsaltz’ book that prompted me to sketch out a new story. But it contains nothing I could not have written before. I came up with the idea of vertical, hierarchical worlds when I was still young. I think maybe 19, but I have no writing from that age, so I am not sure. At that time there was nothing religious or spiritual to it: I had picked up the idea of parallel worlds (or dimensions, as they were erroneously called) from a book by Norwegian SF authors Bing & BringsvÃ¦rd. Their worlds were parallel horizontally rather than vertically, gradually becoming more alien with increasing distance from our reality, I think. In any case, at some point I changed my view of the multiverse to vertical and hierarchical, although at that time it was still pure SF. Â Then some 25 years passed before I found this worldview again, in a different context.
In my latest story, the protagonist is from a world much like our own. In the library he chances upon a book that describes dozens of other worlds, in a brief but factual way, as if a textbook for world travelers rather than a piece of fiction. One of them stands out: The world where the community of Servants of the Light have worked tirelessly together to fill the whole world with Light, to the point where it became a paradise and eventually ascended to a higher level. This world again has now given birth to lower worlds, and while it is higher, they are lower. Â Our hero decides to try the ritual written in the book to travel to one of these worlds.
The world of Gebir is an instance of Earth, with similar but not quite identical races of humans, animals and plants. However, this world, by virtue of being a little lower than ours, is inferior in details. Â The soil itself is less fertile, and life is nastier, more brutish and shorter. The human races there are not only a little weaker physically and more prone to illness, but their lifespan is shorter even when they die from old age: An age of 65, or 70 for the strong, is considered ripe old age.
Worse yet is the mental inferiority of the people. They learn more slowly and forget more easily. Their attention span is shorter, and it is harder for them to see the consequences of their actions, for themselves and for others. Logic is a virtually unknown art, and superstitions reign. Â (In all fairness, they do live in a world where a certain type of magic actually works, but they will believe in many other strange things as well.) Their willpower is nothing to write home about, they are easily mastered by their appetites, whether it concerns food or drink or sex or sleep. Quick to anger and easily distracted from work, especially mental work, they progress slowly and backslide quickly.
The sad truth is that these untermenschen are largely patterned on our own ancestors, from the middle ages backward. Â It is hard for a modern person to imagine the sad state of mankind 1000 years ago, let alone 1500 years ago.
(Let me briefly once again say that I consider the “Dark Age” of Europe to be from the final generations of the Western Roman Empire, through the violent and chaotic era where entire nations were moving around, to the beginning of Carolus Magnus’ new Holy Roman Empire (which was neither holy, roman, nor – for most of its time – a real empire.) From here on, if not before, there was a slow and fitful progress in many areas. The Middle Ages, then is largely a time of progress, leading toward the Renaissance. It was certainly not guaranteed to end that way – China pretty much ossified before reaching the modern age, despite having a lead on Europe for much of the time – but neither was it some kind of black hole. Â Things were even worse before.)
Now I am not saying that our world is in the process of ascending to a Paradise and beyond: There are still so many things that can go wrong, and some of them are indeed going wrong even as we speak. But comparing the English-speaking people today with their ancestors 1000 years ago, not to mention even further, even common people today appear as supermen in health of not only body but mind as well.
Be that as it may, this is the first time in a long time indeed that I design a world that is consistently inferior, and humans who are a breed of losers. I must admit that I had to reflect deeply on my fascination with the depravity I imagined. There is a saying about people who go into the sewers to clean up and people who go there to bathe (social realism anyone?). I am still in a very early phase of this project, having written only a couple thousand words. I am not sure how viable it may be. Let’s say I am not quitting my day job to write on this. Â But I make these few notes just in case.