The Clash of Names
by Chris Wayan, 2010
for centuries of lost, hungry, queasy, thirsty, horny, scurvy sailors
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Abyssia is Earth. Earth turned inside out, so the darkest, least explored abysses are dredged up into light, and your home drowns under miles of sea... but Earth.
So are its names. And that's a problem. People get passionate about names. You could melt Pluto with the hot-air claims it's still a planet--or not. Abyssia's names sound wrong. As these dark drowned corners of Earth have been plumbed, the names given to those discoveries reflect not Abyssian history, but ours. A subset of ours, at least--maritime heroism. Oceanography has always been a dangerous business, and an extraordinary number of names commemorate disasters--explorers stranded, drowned, frozen, starved... eaten.
So my alien not-quite Earth abounds in European names. Don't write in about my biases or lack of imagination. They're the real names for these features. Our knowledge of the deeps essentially began with the Europeans of the Age of Exploration. An appalling bunch in many ways, but their heroism and commitment to science was just as real as their greed and violence. Love 'em or hate 'em, there they are. God, Gold, the Enlightenment...
By my premise, I must name Abyssia's features as close to our usage as possible; yet its history, as I've deduced it, is probably one of lonely island populations evolving several intelligent species--a world of centauroids and flightless (well, mostly flightless) avians, not a world of naked apes prone to rum, religion and empire--or if you prefer, territoriality and alpha-male dominance games. (Arr, matey, 'twill take a rum ethologist--an ethanologist?--to come up with a great term for that ape thing about grog.)
This leads to cultural incongruities just as outrageous and inexplicable as the geological conundrum of conical blue holes and pitlakes all over Abyssia--inverted volcanoes. They aren't the only Abyssian features that suck. So do the names.
For example, we get wide lands like Tristania, Bouvetia and Crozetia named for obscure islets in our southern seas--islets often not even named for explorers but mere chance discoverers, like Bouvet.
Worse, we get a plethora of names of women who weren't even there--wives and sweethearts left behind on lonely years-long voyages--these God-fearing apes had a fierce taboo against letting females sail. In many cases these are deceptive: they're ship names, often commemorating ships wrecked.
Worse yet: Abyssia, whose species of people will inevitably develop different religions, is inexplicably rife with names reflecting Earth-ape cults, especially Christianity--saints, holidays, martyrs. It's clear I'm going to have to invent an avian Christ (at least his name is obvious: the parakeet messiah, Budgiesus).
But oh, what a slippery slope! I'm afraid this leads to a marsupial Buddha contemplating his pouch (yes! Rub his tummy!) and a cameloid Muhammad (uh-oh. Imagine the spitting! The emails I'm gonna get...)
And the worst clash of all, worse than the Clash of Civilizations, is the Clash of Species. We're going to be stuck with an intrepid desert-fox explorer named Ferdinand Magellan, a moa mariner and botanist eight feet tall named Alexander Von Humboldt, brutal dodo captains like Cook and de Gama and Bligh, ice-braving centaurs called Amundsen and Scott, kangaroid spicemerchants named Tasman and Heemskerck...
You can let all this bother you, or you can enjoy it. "Love 'em or hate 'em, there they are" applies to these absurdities as well as to the dead silverback apes--pardon me, bearded sea-captains--whose names and deeds cause these incongruities. After all, that history is ours; we've just forgotten, or chosen not to look.
Abyssia's whole point is estrangement, in the science-fictional sense: a change renewing the wonder of familiar things. And Abyssia is familiar. Abyssia is Earth.
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