I is for Industry

I is for Industry


There were horsemen hard at work all around her in those fields, tilling and tending the land with tools uniquely-designed for them.  The plows were great Vs of metal with long bars reaching back; one horseman would be harnessed to pull, and one would walk behind, guiding the rows into razor-straight lines.  Grain was threshed by a long, spiky spiral pulled by three horsemen and raked up by a row of others into carts they themselves pulled.  Some tall stalky crop was in harvest, cut with hooked sickles, gathered by hand and thrown into cone-shaped baskets worn like saddlebags.

Not everyone was a farmer.  Horsemen came in small groups back from the reaching forest with saddle-baskets filled with branches, or with braces of game or simply with their runkas loosely balanced on their shoulders.  But everyone was clearly working, everyone had something to do and everyone was doing it. –The Care and Feeding of Griffins

* * *

All you hard-working sons and daughters of bitches out there, I salute you…as I sit comfortably at my desk, typing with a cup of cocoa in one hand and my toes cozily nestled in the warm bellyfur of my old blind cat. I am the last person on God’s green Earth who ought to talk about industry, since talking is about as industrious as I get these days, but there’s only so many words that begin with I.


Now when I say ‘industry,’ you are perhaps envisioning some steampunkian nightmare—a blood red sunrise obscured by a forest of factory chimneys belching black smoke and flame over a perpetually shadowed city whose lugubrious citizens slouch along filthy alleyways from pub to pub until they stagger home and die of consumption. Not so! Or at least, not exclusively.


Industry had its beginnings when the first family clan decided Slag would make all the stone axes from now on and Oona would make all the loincloths (Ugg made all the boots), rather than have every individual manufacture all his own individual needs. Over time, Slag not only made all the axes, he also made the best. By specializing, superior products were made, which created a need for trade, which led to more manufacture, which meant they had to stop being nomadic and make permanent dwellings, which soon led to farming as opposed to hunter-gather lifestyles, and before you know it, we’re civilized. Great leaps in human history that have changed the face of industry include the potter’s wheel, the alphabet, the flux capacitor and the plow. Well…not so much the alphabet.

This. Changed. Everything.

So what’s the difference between technology and industry? Simply put, technology is the tool and industry is the work. In regards to world-building, industry is my umbrella-term for both the technological understanding of its people and the industries to which they apply themselves.


Depending on who you talk to, there are between three and five main types of industry, imaginatively named the primary, secondary, tertiary, quarternary and quinary. The primary type is production—farming, mining and logging—anything that takes resources directly. Secondary industries involves processing—refining, sawing, butchering—the middlemen who take raw resources and pass them on ready-to-use. The tertiary group provide services—not just merchants of physical goods, but also politicians, soldiers, doctors, teachers—anyone who provides a specialty skill. The fourth and fifth industries aren’t counted by everyone because some people are snobs; they are the knowledge/research industry, which includes scientists, and the artistic group, which includes actors, musicians and writers of paranormal erotica. The kinds of industries your people will be involved with will depend on available resources, education, and technological advancement.


Before we go very much further, let’s take a huge chunk of print-space and several minutes to talk about eras, because I use them as reference points and this entire series of articles is all about me. An era is any span of time that can be clearly defined by a specific attribute of those who lived through it. They’re also called Ages. For example, the Carboniferous Era during the Paleozoic Period was named for the many coal beds formed during this time.

Didn’t know this was going to be one of those sciency posts, did you?

The Stone Age is the first era of technological advancement. During this stage, tools were formed from unrefined resources—wood, bone, shell, antlers, gourds and various kinds of stone. Clay pottery is made and shaped by hand. Certain animals were domesticated. Agriculture was developed to supplement hunting and foraging, although it was likely limited to transplanting rather than cultivating wild plants. Simple dugout canoes allow for fishing and travel in shallow waters.


The Gold Age is marked by the discovery of metalworking, but precedes the discovery of smelting alloys. Gold, being soft enough to work with hands alone, is among the first metals to be worked but quickly proves useless for all but ornamental purposes. Tools made from copper, iron and tin supplant those made of wood and bone, although stone is still preferred for heavy use. The potter’s wheel is invented and pottery becomes much more common and useful. Agriculture and domestication advance together with the invention of the plow, yoke and bridle. The use of manure as fertilizer likely began here as well.


The Bronze Age marks the discovery of alloys, which were much stronger and more useful than base metals, which led to the first large-scale mining operations. Clothing technology takes a leap forward with the invention of the metal brooch—the first fastenings. Pottery has advanced to include durable building bricks and decorative tiles. The potter’s wheel metamorphs into the first wheels for carts and chariots. Writing begins to be developed about this time also as trade becomes a viable industry all on its own. The construction of sails makes coastal travel much quicker.

I hope you’re taking notes, because there will be a short quiz at the end of the article.

The Iron Age should be more accurately called the Steel Age, as iron has been around for a while, but since iron is both heavy and soft, its uses were limited. But with wrought iron and steel, tools and weapons were now considered nigh invulnerable. Iron picks allow mining in areas once thought inaccessible and the iron plow allows for more efficient land cultivation and large-scale stationary farms become more common. Ocean-going vessels create trade and travel routes across vast distances with the aid of the astrolabe and other navigation tools.


The Middle Ages could obviously be broken down into several technological eras, but in general is marked by the widespread use of printing and dissemination of literature, which in turn led to advancements in education, science, medicine and every kind of industry. Machines are invented and quickly become commonplace, but are all wind-, water-, man- or beast-powered. On the farm, windmills and pumps allow farmers to save time and labor, thus increasing their yield. Improvements in ship construction and navigational science make global exploration, trade and piracy both possible and lucrative.


The Industrial Age begins with the development of steam engines, refined fossil fuels and wholly power-driven machinery. Significant inventions made during this era are too numerous to mention, but perhaps the greatest strides were made in transportation (automobile, train, airplane, armored and propelled ships and submarines), mass production (automated assembly lines and push-button labor) and communication (telephone, radio and television). This era is also notable for a marked increase in pollution, which causes chronic illness despite impressive medical advancements.


The Information Age is set apart from the Industrial Age by the advent and adoption of the computer, which leads to a quantum leap in the innovation and efficiency of all technology. The first steps are taken into space. Communication satellites allow for the potential to connect all corners of the globe.


The Interstellar Age is a speculative future era characterized by a technology that allows travel between star systems. There are a number of proposed methods for accomplishing this, varying (according to scientists) from the merely silly—utilizing suspended animation or multi-generational ships—to the extremely silly—like faster-than-light travel or jump-gates. Other technologies associated with this era include artificial intelligences (sentient robots, androids or cyborgs), cloaking devices, force fields, tractor beams, mobile holograms, cloning and time travel. Lest you be tempted to roll your eyes, remember that televisions, webcams, personal tablets, cell phones and lasers were all elements of “silly” science fiction once.

Question 1.) During what technological era was the mathematical principle of the throculation capacity of base minerals first developed?

When deciding on the characteristics of the people who populate my world, I use these Ages as a general rule for how technologically advanced they are and what their industrial level might be, but it’s a pretty soft rule. The gullan in Olivia are steadfast Stone Agers; in spite of the fact that they are very much aware of modern human technology, they have no desire to adopt it. The Farasai in my Lords of Arcadia series know of metalworking, but aren’t built for mining, so leave that whole messy business to the Cerosan and rely on trade to keep them supplied with essential tools and weapons. In The Last Hour of Gann, the dominant religion forbids all use of higher machines, but the dumaqs would never consider themselves suffering for the lack.


For that matter, even when I am writing about humans, there’s a lot of wiggle-room. The ancient Romans, Egyptians and Mayans all produced engineering feats the likes of which we still cannot replicate. They were not marvels for their time; they were marvels, period. And of course, several cultures occupying the same world at the same time may be at different industrial levels. Never make the mistake of assuming all less technologically-advanced cultures were therefore inferior.


One last world of advice: Use your imagination. I may use the evolution of human industry as a guideline, but I’m certainly not married to it. Certain eras can be shuffled around or even skipped entirely if I want it that way. Technomantric, steampunk and post-apocalyptic worlds are all examples of settings that beautifully benefit from anachronistic industrial civilizations. So have fun! You’re a fantasy writer! Nothing is set in stone!


3 responses to “I is for Industry

  1. Writing seems like a lot of work. I was listening to a TED talk yesterday and the speaker talked about November being national novel writing month! It’s everywhere if you look for it.

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