Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Five uses for whales in fantasy

Since I’ve done butterflies, spiders and dinosaurs, marine life was next… :)

1. Food gatherers

T. J. Bass’s novel The Godwhale features Rorqual Maru, a cybernetically augmented creature designed to harvest the oceans. It/she even has a small sentient robot called Trilobite which lives inside her but can emerge to assist her, go exploring, etc.

This enormous 'rake' is an ocean-going biota harvester built in part from a genetically-modified blue whale.

Fantasy worlds could have something similar to Rorqual Maru if magic or centuries of breeding/natural selection were substituted for cybernetics. Baleen whales could collect tons of krill, and sperm whales could hunt the depths of the ocean for giant squid to feed human populations.

2. Medieval explorers

This is something I’ve wanted to do ever since I first read about sailing and exploration prior to the Age of Steam. Sailors had superstitions (that they would fall off the edge of the world) as well as reality-based fears, so why not have a whale or whales mentally joined to one of the people on that ship? A whalewitch could direct her giant familiars to explore ahead of them and make sure conditions were safe – especially useful at night (icebergs!) or with enemy vessels nearby (a la Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World).

Though those enemy vessels would have their own whales. Or great white sharks. Or a megalodon.

The confrontation would be really something.

3. Moat defenders

Smaller whales here, though what they lose in size, they could make up for in ferocity. Best of all, since they’re whales they could work in a pack and coordinate their attacks on whoever was trying to cross. This would be even more effective in deeper waters such as those of a lake, assuming the castle was on an island at the center of the lake.

And if there was a siege, the whales could be used as food.

4. City foundations

If there was a way to make a whale stay only partially submerged, and if that whale was large enough, why not have a city spring up on its back? The cityfolk would be assured of a constant food supply, if they could tap into the whale’s blubber or even circulatory system (the whale could still swim to its regular feeding grounds, just not dive).

If this was a symbiotic relationship then they would have to provide the whale with something as well, though I’d have to think about what that is. And what would happen to them when the whale eventually died? Would a mythos or even religion spring up around the giant creature on whom their lives depend?

5. Ocean despots

In the ocean, each whale stakes out a territory and defends it fiercely (using their song to indicate boundaries). Humans living or hunting within that territory obey the whales or face destruction.

What happens when humans want to cross over from one territory to another, though? Perhaps they’ve developed technology, such as explosive harpoons, which evens the odds against the giant predators.

It could be a whale of a tale.


JH said...

Related to exploration: whales as motive force. Just as sleds are pulled by dogs, imagine huge galleons towed by teams of harnessed and trained whales.

Marian Perera said...

Oh yes, that too! Good idea.

Randall said...

Those are some really, really good ideas. I may use some of them someday.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I love the whalewitch idea. Quite cool.

Marian Perera said...

Thanks! Glad you like them. :)

Barbara Martin said...

Thank you very much, Marion, for assisting with a bit of plot in my third manuscript. I hadn't thought of whales in the ocean, but here you have it all.