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Taejang
12-02-2014, 10:59 PM
My WIP features a fantasy world that lacks metal. Iron, copper, gold, all of it. Only a handful of "blacksmiths" exist in an entire country, and each is lucky to work on a dozen pieces of actual metal in their entire careers. Everything else is there as normal, like gemstones, but may be harder to get without metal tools. Additionally, 99.8% of the population has magic, though the type of magic varies and is passed down genetically.

Knives are made of stone or obsidian. Swords don't exist. Paper money is used. But I'm also thinking of stuff like door hinges, wagon wheels, barrels, nails, hammers, etc. I already know some of it, ex: Hanese shapers can manipulate rock very easily with magic, enabling sculptures and the like but also stone furnaces for making glass.

What kinds of things can you think of that I'll need to figure out, and what are some possible alternatives? Not all of the explanations need to exist in the book, but I want them all in my notes.

(For brevity, I left out how the world came to lack metal. Let me know if you're interested.)

Osulagh
12-02-2014, 11:33 PM
I think you're going to run into problems when your world lacks a certain something without another thing being a large component in place of it

Like, if your world lacks certain metals, what does that mean? They're just extremely rare? Because that can cause a lot of problem. Like, for example, the essential metal in the human body. Iron, zinc, copper--these are need in the body. Perhaps it would be better to have less metal in the general area of the world--like, no great iron deposits or they're sacred and kept secret.

Or perhaps since it's very scarce and another material is out there, no body really bothered practicing how to smith the materials. Blacksmiths and redsmiths exist few in number because of your magic manipulates another material better. Stone and dirt can contain metal, and if you smelt that and remove other elements, you start to refine that metal down. If magic makes this obsolete, then people wouldn't need to do it (but it might make for a interesting twist element).

And then I bring up: What's the replacement? Now, you can use wood and other things like you said. But I would feel like that doesn't go too far in. A patch job, IMO. Couldn't you create an element in your world that replaces metal? Something that's so abundant that the general metals we know are not worth working with?

ClareGreen
12-02-2014, 11:42 PM
It may be worth looking at Earth's own cultures as a starting point; iron was relatively rare in Japan, leading to care with what they had, and Mesoamerican countries were presumably using obsidian for a reason.

Door hinges in metal have been a rarity until recently for anyone not rich; I understand most of us used leather hinges before mass production. Wagon wheels might have to go without a tyre, but tyres were not standard until relatively recently anyway. Barrels are more difficult, but I can see strips of leather being used instead of iron hoops. In fact, if you have a leather-shaper a lot of what we'd have used iron for could be done with leather.

That just leaves nails and hammers. Hammers can be made out of most things, from nylon to certain types of stone, and nails could be shaped by your shapers. (For joining two bits of wood, most people used more wood. Nails had very specific purposes, as befitting something hand-made by blacksmiths' apprentices, but people working with wood could use several sorts of joints, dowels, etc. - including a lot that have fallen out of use as nails got more readily available...)

Taejang
12-03-2014, 12:02 AM
...And then I bring up: What's the replacement?...
Interesting thoughts. I would say the replacement is magic, actually. It can't stick around like a sword or a nail, but it can replace most metal tools.

To (briefly) answer your question, the world has metal, the countries relevant to the story just lack them. In their distant past, a group of powerful shapers learned to extract metal from the ground. They gained power with the best equipped armies and the most money, all gained from the ground. Long story short, they extracted nearly all the metal inside their territory and said metal was lost over the centuries. Their empire is now broken into six nations, where the story takes place, and these six nations have no contact with the rest of the world (another explanation there that I won't get into).


It may be worth looking at Earth's own cultures as a starting point; iron was relatively rare in Japan, leading to care with what they had, and Mesoamerican countries were presumably using obsidian for a reason.

Door hinges in metal have been a rarity until recently for anyone not rich; I understand most of us used leather hinges before mass production. Wagon wheels might have to go without a tyre, but tyres were not standard until relatively recently anyway. Barrels are more difficult, but I can see strips of leather being used instead of iron hoops. In fact, if you have a leather-shaper a lot of what we'd have used iron for could be done with leather.

That just leaves nails and hammers. Hammers can be made out of most things, from nylon to certain types of stone, and nails could be shaped by your shapers. (For joining two bits of wood, most people used more wood. Nails had very specific purposes, as befitting something hand-made by blacksmiths' apprentices, but people working with wood could use several sorts of joints, dowels, etc. - including a lot that have fallen out of use as nails got more readily available...)
Interesting details. The leather hinges thing rings a bell, but I'm not sure I knew about the methods of woodwork you mention. As for barrels, I may just use leather for the few in existence and say crates are far more common.

Does anyone have other possible problems I should be aware of? Other things created with metal or metal tools? I'm wondering about textiles in particular; I know needles can be made from all kinds of things, but what kind of cloth can be made without metal tools?

Liosse de Velishaf
12-03-2014, 12:06 AM
You can have limited ore deposits that prevent major use of metal. Although apparently metal exists, just not in usable form mostly? Since you say blacksmiths do occasionally work with some.

Most medieval tech doesn't necessarily require metal. You can use wooden spears, stone arrow tips, leather armor, hinges (as said).

Stone, wood, and leather, especially with magic, can probably substitute for most uses of metal.

Metal can be better for many things like plows and such, but is not necessary.

Jewelry can be wood and leather with gemstones. Eating utensils can be made of wood. Ceramics could be used for many things, I'd imagine.



Really a lot of this depends on your explanation for the lack of metal.

Phrenic
12-03-2014, 12:07 AM
You just described the world of Kelewan ruled by the Tsurani Empire as written by Raymond E. Feist.

The first book is titled Magician and was released in 1982. If you ever heard of a kingdom named Krondor, then you know about Feist.

Kelewan has very little metal, so they grow a plant that they harvest, boil and layer over various molds, creating armor and swords that are lighter and stronger than metal. The armor must be lacquered to waterproof it (I'm not positive on the last part, it's been awhile since I read it). Of course Stone and wood are used extensively, but the plant bridges the need for metal.

I've read the entire series and side series. The final book, Magician's End, was published last year. My own writing is partially influenced by Feist.

Hope this helps.

Unimportant
12-03-2014, 12:10 AM
I know needles can be made from all kinds of things, but what kind of cloth can be made without metal tools?
You can spin, weave and knit without metal.

Look up how things were done by (fairly recent) cultures that didn't work metals until Europeans invaded -- Australian Aboriginals, Amazonian tribes, New Zealand Maori.

Polenth
12-03-2014, 12:11 AM
You might be interested in Bob Shaw's Land and Overland series. It's set on planets without any metal.

ULTRAGOTHA
12-03-2014, 01:04 AM
Barrels are more difficult, but I can see strips of leather being used instead of iron hoops.


As for barrels, I may just use leather for the few in existence and say crates are far more common.

Lots and lots of barrels use withies, strips of bark, or strips of green wood for hoops instead of metal. Fashioning the staves could be done with glass scrapers. Sawing things to length would be more difficult without metal but perhaps magic-hardened ceramics?




…but what kind of cloth can be made without metal tools?


You can spin, weave and knit without metal.

Nalebinding, sprang, crochet….

If you can make door frames, bridges, boats, trenails and barrel hoops (or cut pieces of wood to size for crates, for that matter) you can make a Warp Weighted loom. No metal involved in putting it together, provided you can work the wood to size. There’s no metal at all in my WWL. If your world managed to invent the horizontal floor loom, I doubt that needs metal either.

You can grow and harvest linen, stinging nettle or hemp without metal and work it down to fiber. You can process wool without metal. It’s *easier* if you have metal for a few select fiber processing tools (combs!) but you can do it without pretty well, too. Spinning, plying and weaving without metal is easy peasy.

Cutting fabric might be a challenge but even there, a nice sharp bit of obsidian ought to do you well. It’s got a far finer and sharper edge than mere metal. Plus there’s always the “everything is a rectangle” school of fashion design.

The hardest part in all that is chopping down the trees and shaping the wood. If you can do that, you can do all your fiber arts no problem.

Taejang
12-03-2014, 01:15 AM
Man I love this site. You guys have saved me a great deal of research time already AND given some further reading suggestions. Thanks for the responses so far!


Sawing things to length would be more difficult without metal but perhaps magic-hardened ceramics?
I've never considered ceramics for cutting or sawing. I'll have to look into that.

ClareGreen
12-03-2014, 01:19 AM
You can process wool without metal. Itís *easier* if you have metal for a few select fiber processing tools (combs!) but you can do it without pretty well, too. Spinning, plying and weaving without metal is easy peasy.

There's a sort of thistle called a 'teasel'. It got that name because it was used for carding before we got good enough with metal for combs...

...And the first hair-combs were antler.

King Neptune
12-03-2014, 01:20 AM
I have read a few things set in places without metal or with very little metal. There was even something in which they used ceramic tubes filled with an electrolyte for conducting electricity without metal.

Ceramic blades are excellent; although they tend to be somewhat brittle. The carbide tips for saw baldes are th best that are available these days, so we have gone the non-metalic route.

jennontheisland
12-03-2014, 01:27 AM
There are buildings in Russia that are hundreds of years old and made entirely of wood.

Bones and skins may be alternatives to consider.

And if someone had fancy enough magic, they could probably conjure up some carbon-fibre out of ashes or something.

Also to consider: your blood is red because of iron that carries oxygen. You need iron, and manganese, and zinc, and cobalt in your diet. The biology of your creatures will have to be different.

Taejang
12-03-2014, 01:39 AM
Also to consider: your blood is red because of iron that carries oxygen. You need iron, and manganese, and zinc, and cobalt in your diet. The biology of your creatures will have to be different.
The shapers pulled ore deposits from the ground, not the trace amounts of minerals and metals. Their magic was powerful, but not that good. Plants and animals still have the same composition as their real-world counterparts and those ingredients are still found in the required amounts in dirt. Just no deposits of sufficient size to be scried out and extracted.

ULTRAGOTHA
12-03-2014, 01:59 AM
There's a sort of thistle called a 'teasel'. It got that name because it was used for carding before we got good enough with metal for combs...

...And the first hair-combs were antler.

Teasels work to a certain extent, depending on your climate, though itís difficult to make worsted wool yarn with them (and hence stronger warp yarn).

Wool combs (or hackles for plant fiber processing) which are not anything like hair combs (http://www.villagespinweave.com/IBS/SimpleCat/Shelf/ASP/Hierarchy/0202.html), can be made with wooden or antler or even stone spikes, but it helps if they're very sharp and rather thin, so iron is easier.

But if you don't have iron or copper/tin/lead alloy then I expect this fantasy world would have come up with perfectly acceptable substitutes. In fact, since Warp Weighted Loom weaving predates the iron age in many cultures we right here on this planet came up with acceptable substitutes (although that early much of the fibers used on that sort of loom were flax/nettle/hemp and not so much wool--worsted isnít a Thing with plant fibers).

The Mongols used a lot of felt. If youíve got animal fiber that will felt, thatís a very viable fabric option.

snafu1056
12-03-2014, 02:04 AM
Without access to iron they probably wouldnt even bother using swords. Theyd probably mainly use bows and arrows and maybe spears. Shields and armor could easily be made from wood, bone, or hide. If there are tusk-bearing animals in your world then there's also ivory to consider. And even a world without metal can get hit by a metallic meteor. So there might still be some metal hidden somewhere in your world.

King Neptune
12-03-2014, 02:05 AM
Teasels work to a certain extent, depending on your climate, though itís difficult to make worsted wool yarn with them (and hence stronger warp yarn).

Wool combs (or hackles for plant fiber processing) which are not anything like hair combs (http://www.villagespinweave.com/IBS/SimpleCat/Shelf/ASP/Hierarchy/0202.html), can be made with wooden or antler or even stone spikes, but it helps if they're very sharp and rather thin, so iron is easier.

But if you don't have iron or copper/tin/lead alloy then I expect this fantasy world would have come up with perfectly acceptable substitutes. In fact, since Warp Weighted Loom weaving predates the iron age in many cultures we right here on this planet came up with acceptable substitutes (although that early much of the fibers used on that sort of loom were flax/nettle/hemp and not so much wool--worsted isnít a Thing with plant fibers).

The Mongols used a lot of felt. If youíve got animal fiber that will felt, thatís a very viable fabric option.

Worsted only goes back less than a thousand years, so there certainly was iron available for the combs, but very few other fibers have any need for worsted combs, just wool and mohair that I can think of.

ULTRAGOTHA
12-03-2014, 02:19 AM
I know the Norse were producing worsted yarns more than 1000 years ago. There have been wool combs found from at least as long ago as 5000 years, which suggests worsted yarn is that old as well.

But regardless, OP can have lots and lots and LOTS of fiber processing and woven clothing even without metal.

Roxxsmom
12-03-2014, 02:46 AM
The pacific islands were metal poor, obviously, being either volcanic or formed from atolls. So the people who lived there used things like volcanic glass, coral, shells, bone, and so on to make cutting edges, tools, and weapons.

There was a stone age culture (http://www.orkneyjar.com/history/skarabrae/) in the Orkneys that was pretty sophisticated in many ways also. So people can build pretty interesting societies without access to metal tools.

Fantasy isn't held up to the same scrutiny as SF, so most readers probably won't be wondering about how and why organisms, including humans in this world, still have enough essential minerals (like iron, zinc, copper and so on) for life. In any case, it's possible for metal to be present in atomic or ionic form but not accessible for tool making for some magical reason. Maybe it's just a curse of the gods or the result of a failed magical experiment by a mad wizard or something. It's fantasy, after all.

As with any other quirky concept in world building, though, it's probably a very good idea to ask yourself why you need/want this one to tell your story. This is probably just a personal bias, but when I read SF or F where the whole thing is that there's this weird difference, but it doesn't really affect the perspectives, characters, or plots of the story, or they serve only to hem it into something very narrow and simplistic, then I get bored.

I want a good and meaty story with interesting characters first and foremost. And any strangeness about the world building should affect and inform them, their culture, and the plot of the story in some meaningful way.

King Neptune
12-03-2014, 03:44 AM
I know the Norse were producing worsted yarns more than 1000 years ago. There have been wool combs found from at least as long ago as 5000 years, which suggests worsted yarn is that old as well.

But regardless, OP can have lots and lots and LOTS of fiber processing and woven clothing even without metal.

That is a surprise. I had thought that worsted was developed in the Middle Ages, but apparently the Norse did make it also.

benbenberi
12-03-2014, 04:30 AM
Metal-working in the Americas before Columbus was pretty much only decorative, and mostly only gold. No metallurgy or smith-work at all. And yet numerous highly developed civilizations emerged and thrived, and managed to do everything they needed just fine without any metal tools or weapons. (Or wheels. Those were just for children' pull-toys.)

Obsidian blades are sharper than steel. But more brittle.

Spy_on_the_Inside
12-03-2014, 04:50 AM
One book you might want to consider reading is Guns, Germs, and Steel. It was written by a geography professor and he wrote about the circumstances that lead to people beginning to craft with metal, what allowed the people the numerous time it took to first cultivate this craft, what life was like before metal came into use, and how life was changed afterwards.

I think it would be an excellent anthropology read for helping you develop this world.

jjdebenedictis
12-03-2014, 05:43 AM
The shapers pulled ore deposits from the ground, not the trace amounts of minerals and metals. Their magic was powerful, but not that good. Plants and animals still have the same composition as their real-world counterparts and those ingredients are still found in the required amounts in dirt. Just no deposits of sufficient size to be scried out and extracted.That lays to rest the nit I had to pick. Ruby, sapphire, and emerald all contain aluminum. However, if the metals were there when the gemstones were created, and extracted later, no problemo.

Taejang
12-03-2014, 06:36 AM
As with any other quirky concept in world building, though, it's probably a very good idea to ask yourself why you need/want this one to tell your story.
I agree, being different for difference sake isn't interesting. The lack of metal completely alters how warfare is conducted. As the main character is a soldier fighting a war, I like to think it isn't a trivial thing.


One book you might want to consider reading is Guns, Germs, and Steel.
I laughed when I saw this! I just stumbled across a reference to that exact book on reddit.


That lays to rest the nit I had to pick. Ruby, sapphire, and emerald all contain aluminum. However, if the metals were there when the gemstones were created, and extracted later, no problemo.
...exactly the kind of unexpected thing I wouldn't have considered. But yeah, there was metal, and there is still metal in forms they can't use (like trace amounts in the soil).

C.bronco
12-03-2014, 07:04 AM
bone and stone would be useful.

Marian Perera
12-03-2014, 07:11 AM
Did anyone mention Jack Vance's Big Planet (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Planet) already? That's also a metal-poor world.

jjdebenedictis
12-04-2014, 04:47 AM
I'm about to go off on a bit of a tangent; gird your loins.

Now that I think of it, this sort of world-building should be far more common in speculative fiction than it is, especially for science fiction set on other worlds. We writers tend to assume the other world is "tuned" to be very Earth-like, but why would it be?

What if the world has more heavy metals than Earth does? People could potentially walk around on that planet, but they wouldn't dare to eat the food that grows there.

And oxygen is a very reactive gas; if humans have to bring their own to breathe, that might mean they're effectively hauling tanks of poison around with them, as far as the locals are concerned.

And helium! Helium is one of the most common elements in the universe, but Earth has little of it. We mine it out of rocks in the ground, but once it escapes from whatever container we put it in (and it will escape, because it's a small molecule), then it floats up and right away from our planet. Helium is a non-renewable resource; we can never get it back.

And yet it's common. Another world might be full of it. Maybe it's outgassing from the soil constantly, and the atmosphere would make you talk like a dog's squeaky-toy all the time.

(There are science fiction stories that address this, but they tend to be a rarity in Spec Fic simply because this one bit of realism -- that humans are evolved to live on Earth, and a world being even slightly non-Earthlike could potentially kill us -- makes things ~difficult~ for the storyteller.)

KaiReader
12-04-2014, 05:31 AM
You just described the world of Kelewan ruled by the Tsurani Empire as written by Raymond E. Feist.

The first book is titled Magician and was released in 1982. If you ever heard of a kingdom named Krondor, then you know about Feist.

Kelewan has very little metal, so they grow a plant that they harvest, boil and layer over various molds, creating armor and swords that are lighter and stronger than metal. The armor must be lacquered to waterproof it (I'm not positive on the last part, it's been awhile since I read it). Of course Stone and wood are used extensively, but the plant bridges the need for metal.

I've read the entire series and side series. The final book, Magician's End, was published last year. My own writing is partially influenced by Feist.

Hope this helps.

I was going to point out this same similarity lol.. Love Feist!
Was some kind of swampland tree that they harvested, I remember the environment was hazardous, infections abounded.. If I recall correctly, the plant fibres were combined with a resin, though I could be wrong, been a while for me too.. May have to revisit those series now though!

RDArmstrong
12-04-2014, 05:49 AM
Man made carbon and silicon based objects have a strength to weight ratio similar to metals. You would have to work out how they make these objects without the use of metal tools to handle them through heating procedures.

frimble3
12-04-2014, 10:47 AM
For woodworking: look up 'Japanese joinery' or 'Japanese Nailless construction'. A common example in N.A. is a dovetail joint to hold two pieces of wood together. Seen in drawers on furniture before the change to particleboard and staples.

Roxxsmom
12-04-2014, 11:15 AM
I'm about to go off on a bit of a tangent; gird your loins.

Now that I think of it, this sort of world-building should be far more common in speculative fiction than it is, especially for science fiction set on other worlds. We writers tend to assume the other world is "tuned" to be very Earth-like, but why would it be?

What if the world has more heavy metals than Earth does? People could potentially walk around on that planet, but they wouldn't dare to eat the food that grows there.

And oxygen is a very reactive gas; if humans have to bring their own to breathe, that might mean they're effectively hauling tanks of poison around with them, as far as the locals are concerned.

And helium! Helium is one of the most common elements in the universe, but Earth has little of it. We mine it out of rocks in the ground, but once it escapes from whatever container we put it in (and it will escape, because it's a small molecule), then it floats up and right away from our planet. Helium is a non-renewable resource; we can never get it back.

And yet it's common. Another world might be full of it. Maybe it's outgassing from the soil constantly, and the atmosphere would make you talk like a dog's squeaky-toy all the time.

(There are science fiction stories that address this, but they tend to be a rarity in Spec Fic simply because this one bit of realism -- that humans are evolved to live on Earth, and a world being even slightly non-Earthlike could potentially kill us -- makes things ~difficult~ for the storyteller.)

You raise a good point here. A geologist or physicist could probably weigh in on different possibilities, but it's certainly possible for a planet that's the right distance from its sun to have water and photosynthesis could still have conditions that really aren't too friendly to us. There was a novel I remember reading a long while ago where a human colony was failing, because they just couldn't terraform the place. The solution, as I remember, was to bioengineer ourselves to fit the world instead.

I think the reason this kind of extreme worldbuilding isn't so common really is because there's a sort of intersection between something that's too mundane or ordinary to be interesting to most readers of speculative fiction and having it be so strange it becomes distracting, unrelatable, or makes the story be all about the strangeness. Sometimes I've read stories where there is some bizarre thing about the worldbuilding, and try as I might, I just can't force myself to internalize the essential differences (I think my mind would balk at a story where all characters were constantly talking in high-pitched voices, for instance, and I'd simply imagine them as speaking normally).

Of course, some of it will depend on the reader's inclinations, and on the storyteller's talent for crafting believable worlds and cultures that are strange yet immersive without having to constantly "remind" the reader about the differences or have them steal the spotlight from the characters or story.

blacbird
12-04-2014, 12:13 PM
What if the world has more heavy metals than Earth does?

Well, as long as we're aiming for some level of scientific realism here:

1. Earth has the percentage distribution of metal elements it has because the common ones are the common things produced in stellar furnaces, notably iron and aluminum. The rare heavy metals are rare because they are produced in proportionally tiny quantities via supernovae explosions. The likelihood of a planet rich in heavier metals like gold, platinum, cadmium, tungsten, etc., but poor in iron, aluminum, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, is vanishingly remote.


And helium! Helium is one of the most common elements in the universe, but Earth has little of it. We mine it out of rocks in the ground, but once it escapes from whatever container we put it in (and it will escape, because it's a small molecule), then it floats up and right away from our planet. Helium is a non-renewable resource; we can never get it back.

Helium-4 is being renewed all the time. The helium-4 nucleus (2 protons+2 neutrons) is an alpha particle, being emitted in great quantities from decay of abundant radioactive isotopes of other elements. One of those alpha particles almost instantly is able to pick up a couple of electrons, for electrical balance, and voilŠ!, you got an atom of helium. Helium-3 (2 protons+1 neutron) is still being released from the Earth's mantle in steady supply, in places like the Rio Grande Rift. Earth will run out of helium only long after it's been fried to a cinder by the death throes of the Sun.

caw

RDArmstrong
12-04-2014, 01:07 PM
A key thing is also that organic molecules in the body are created to hold metal ions in such a way that they can bind oxygen in such a way that the oxygen is strong enough to stick but also weak enough to be released when pH and other factors alters the organic molecules shape.

This is a basis for all life. Kind of hard to get around. Better to say that there is trace amounts because someone has taken it away from the planet to drive up the price and create a monopoly.

To mold metal to make useful tools from iron you need temperatures 700 C. You could possibly work out a way that makes that heat impossible to be created by man in your world but I don't know what that could be.

blacbird
12-04-2014, 01:24 PM
A key thing is also that organic molecules in the body are created to hold metal ions in such a way that they can bind oxygen in such a way that the oxygen is strong enough to stick but also weak enough to be released when pH and other factors alters the organic molecules shape.

Well, really, only iron, which is the second most abundant metal, after aluminum, in the Earth's crustal material, and is far more amenable to chemical interaction with oxygen than is aluminum. No other metal is abundant enough combined with the chemical potential to offer this vital level of chemical interaction.


Most "heavy" metals are toxic to Earth-based organic life forms (including you and me) because they flark up the chemistry if they get involved. Never eat compounds composed of cadmium or thallium or mercury or lead, if you don't believe this. Some metals are inert enough to be harmless (gold, platinum, tantalum) and can be used for medical implants and such, simply because they don't get involved with our vital organic chemistry. And we need traces of certain others (copper, manganese, a couple more) to keep our enzymes happy. But iron's our major metallic buddy.

caw

Taejang
12-04-2014, 07:10 PM
I'm about to go off on a bit of a tangent; gird your loins.
I was checking this at work and just about lost it laughing at that phrase. Been awhile since I heard "gird your loins" outside of Biblical discussions. :D


What if the world has more heavy metals than Earth does? People could potentially walk around on that planet, but they wouldn't dare to eat the food that grows there.
If I recall, the planet Grayson orbiting Yeltsin's Star in the Honor Harrington universe is packed with heavy metals. The colonists were religious outcasts and picked the first planet they could find without waiting for a proper survey; they arrived and were nearly wiped out, resulting in a near-complete loss of advanced technology. Survivors suffered all kinds of health problems for centuries. The author, Weber, did a good job describing conditions and such, using it to build the characters from that system, along with their political, economic, and religious structures.


...
caw
I very much appreciate the scientific details given in your posts, blacbird. Most of it is beyond my use (both for the current story and because it is fantasy), but the understanding is great for me.

RDArmstrong
12-04-2014, 07:50 PM
Well, really, only iron, which is the second most abundant metal, after aluminum, in the Earth's crustal material, and is far more amenable to chemical interaction with oxygen than is aluminum. No other metal is abundant enough combined with the chemical potential to offer this vital level of chemical interaction.


Most "heavy" metals are toxic to Earth-based organic life forms (including you and me) because they flark up the chemistry if they get involved. Never eat compounds composed of cadmium or thallium or mercury or lead, if you don't believe this. Some metals are inert enough to be harmless (gold, platinum, tantalum) and can be used for medical implants and such, simply because they don't get involved with our vital organic chemistry. And we need traces of certain others (copper, manganese, a couple more) to keep our enzymes happy. But iron's our major metallic buddy.

caw


Yes this is true, my point is that you need those metal ions for organic matter to survive. I see I initially made two half points into a sentence that didn't quite connect properly. So yeah Iron, Magnesium, Aluminium, Copper, and Zinc are all important. Of all the metals I'd say that Magnesium is probably the most crucial to life.

benbenberi
12-05-2014, 06:23 AM
What if the world has more heavy metals than Earth does? People could potentially walk around on that planet, but they wouldn't dare to eat the food that grows there.

And oxygen is a very reactive gas; if humans have to bring their own to breathe, that might mean they're effectively hauling tanks of poison around with them, as far as the locals are concerned.

(There are science fiction stories that address this, but they tend to be a rarity in Spec Fic simply because this one bit of realism -- that humans are evolved to live on Earth, and a world being even slightly non-Earthlike could potentially kill us -- makes things ~difficult~ for the storyteller.)

I gather that Earth, for much of its history, was not actually very Earthlike in important ways. There was a great deal of free iron (& other metals) in the environment, and very little free oxygen. It was only about 2.3 billion yrs ago that cyanobacteria overwhelmed a previously stable chemical regime with their emissions, rusted out nearly all the surface iron, and poisoned nearly every environment and ecosystem on the planet with highly reactive, toxic oxygen. (Sometimes called the Great Oxygen Catastrophe.)

In effect, Earth had to be terraformed before life-as-we-know-it could emerge, and previous dominant life forms mostly only survived in marginal & remnant niches. This was not an inevitable development.

Smiling Ted
12-06-2014, 07:19 AM
Bear in mind that many of your non-metallic substitutes will tend to wear out more quickly and break more easily than iron, copper, and so on. So a wagon driver might always travel with a box of substitute wheel pegs, for instance, or extra rims.

Without ferrous metals, it's unlikely that they would develop magnetic technologies like the compass, possibly the most crucial navigational tool in history.
Making fire would be more difficult, since the flint/steel combination wouldn't be around.
Plumbing and advanced gear-based mechanical devices - like the Antikythera Device - would be much rarer (wooden gears are lousy compared to metal ones).
Flint nappers - artisans who flake off pieces of flint and obsidian for arrowheads and spear tips - would have a steady gig, as would navigational and fire-controlling magicians.

waylander
12-06-2014, 05:08 PM
Yes this is true, my point is that you need those metal ions for organic matter to survive. I see I initially made two half points into a sentence that didn't quite connect properly. So yeah Iron, Magnesium, Aluminium, Copper, and Zinc are all important. Of all the metals I'd say that Magnesium is probably the most crucial to life.

Don't discount the importance of sodium, potassium and calcium. Your nervous system runs on these ions.

Jamesaritchie
12-06-2014, 08:21 PM
Just two things. Aluminum is generally safe, but it can also be a deadly neurotoxin, if handled improperly.

Door hinges can also be made of wood, These are better than leather, and I've made them. It isn't difficult to do, and if made from the right wood, they can last a long, long time.

NDoyle
12-06-2014, 11:22 PM
Doors don't even need hinges. They can be designed with pivots set into sockets.

Swords, or sword-like weapons, could exist and, given that humans are inventive when it comes to weaponry, certainly do. They would be made of wood set with obsidian blades.

Woodworking is possible without metal implements--there are more styles of joinery (I think) without nails than with!--but carpenters etc. are going to be limited nonetheless. Lack of nails is not a particular hardship. But, for example, no metal means no metal bits for drilling. So keep in mind how, say, your world's boatbuilders are working. Plank-built vessels are going to be difficult to construct without metal tools.

As others have recommended, you need to take a good, hard look at the technologies used by the peoples of the pre-Colombian Americas, as well as some prehistoric (i.e., pre-Chalcolithic/Bronze Age) cultures elsewhere in the world. With some details thrown in from elsewhere (e.g., for Europe/Asia, investigate the drawbacks of farming with wooden plows?), they present the best real-world models to work from.

ULTRAGOTHA
12-07-2014, 02:52 AM
Doors don't even need hinges. They can be designed with pivots set into sockets.

The Norse in some areas used soapstone with a hollowed out depression to make those pivots for their doors.



Lack of nails is not a particular hardship. But, for example, no metal means no metal bits for drilling. So keep in mind how, say, your world's boatbuilders are working. Plank-built vessels are going to be difficult to construct without metal tools.

This is true. Chopping down a tree and splitting the tree into planks can be done without metal tools. Shaping the planks into strakes and sawing them to lengths can also be done but it's more difficult without iron. Making holes without iron can be done with sharpened stone set into a handle. Rotate the stone with enough force and you'll get a hole. It takes longer than with a sharpened iron spoon bit, though. Skilled stone knappers will be paid well!

Lap-strake construction relied on iron nails in our world. But it is also possible to "sew" a ship together with very tough fibers like spruce roots.

NDoyle
12-07-2014, 04:00 AM
Sewn-plank/lashed-plank construction and mortise-and-tenon joinery (the latter of which may be pegged or unpegged) require no metal in the fastenings. (This kind of non-overlapping construction is called carvel; lapstrake is also called clinker.) Historically, plank-built boats usually coincided with the availability of metal technology. But there are exceptions. The most famous is the Chumash of the Pacific Northwest, who used obsidian to drill holes for their sewn-plank boats:

http://indigenousboats.blogspot.com/2013/01/the-chumash-and-tomol.html

Notice that the tomol is a sizable canoe, but it is not a large ship. No sewn-plank vessel is/was very large, though they certainly could be seaworthy.

Watercraft of kinds other than the plank-built varieties can, of course, be fashioned without any kind of metal at any stage of the process: logs (whole or split) can be lashed together to create rafts; logs can be hollowed to make dugouts; boats of skin or bark (coracles, birchbark canoes, etc.) can be made.

jjdebenedictis
12-07-2014, 06:51 AM
Dang, I love threads like this. Everyone's specialized knowledge comes out to play. :D

snafu1056
12-07-2014, 09:41 AM
Dang, I love threads like this. Everyone's specialized knowledge comes out to play. :D

Gotta do something with all that useless knowledge.

NDoyle
12-07-2014, 07:59 PM
Some of us earn a living with all that useless knowledge. :)

Taejang
12-08-2014, 07:08 PM
Swords, or sword-like weapons, could exist and, given that humans are inventive when it comes to weaponry, certainly do. They would be made of wood set with obsidian blades.
These actually did exist in the pre-Columbian Americas. Required frequent maintenance, as the obsidian was prone to break after use on a battlefield.


Dang, I love threads like this. Everyone's specialized knowledge comes out to play. :D
I was thinking the same thing!

I just want to again thank everyone for their comments. You folks are amazing!

SampleGuy
12-08-2014, 11:38 PM
Glass can be an option.

Taejang
12-09-2014, 12:07 AM
Glass can be an option.
I've played the Elder Scroll games and am very curious about how glass armor or weapons could be at all feasible. If you can explain, please do.

Once!
12-09-2014, 12:33 PM
Wow - a zombie thread that I started!

There are some fabulous ideas here. I've been able to use some of them. The nature of my world meant that some of the options were a little hard to weave in. My world doesn't have the technology to make glass, for example, so that option wasn't really open to me.

In the end, I went with wood, bone and some stone (but nothing as exotic as obsidian). Nearly everyone carries a bone knife but they are prone to breaking and need constant sharpening. The most advanced weapons are longbows. Swords are unheard of.

Finished the first draft and I'm now into editing mode. I have betas lined up for the beginning of 2015. No title as yet.

benbenberi
12-10-2014, 04:01 AM
Wow - a zombie thread that I started!

Did you start a different thread on this topic? Because this one has only been going for a week or so.

But it's an interesting idea with a lot of potential variations, & it certainly hasn't been overused.

Once!
12-13-2014, 03:40 PM
Heck - you are quite right. My bad. This thread is so much like one that I started that I got confused. It happens.

This is the thread I was thinking of...

http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=281005&highlight=world+metal+once%21

Nothing new under the sun, eh?

Cathy C
12-13-2014, 04:29 PM
Some early wool combs were made (I would imagine rather laborously) with porcupine quills. Being a fantasy world, I would suggest you create some reptiles or fish that have scales or a hide that's suited to armor or weaponry (think about how shark skin has been used for sandpaper and how JK Rowling mentions dragonhide gloves for handling potions). Conch shells in large size could also be ground down to become armor plates--making them extremely valuable.