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I'm writing a science fiction story and it's based in another galaxy, colonised by humans originally on a geographically equivalent "Earth".

My current usage refers to it as "Earth" and provides a short description of why. Specifically:

The sun was shining high in the sky, not quite as warm as a summer on Earth but the temperature was inviting none the less. Earth of course, referred to the geographical equivalent planet colonised in the Sicilian galaxy, originally known as Messier 33. The planet was initially titled New Earth however the prefix was dropped in the fourth century following a public vote as many believed it was clear that with two and a half million light years distance between them, it was hard to confuse the two, not to mention that many people called it "Earth" by default.

Earth in the Sicilian galaxy was only two percent larger than Earth in the Milky Way and was mostly equivalent in geography, flora and fauna, affording the settlers an unexpected sense of familiarity when they first arrived.

(bear in mind I haven't revised anything yet, this is first draft material)

My question is, do you think in this and possibly other circumstances, it could be confusing to call it "Earth", despite the reason why?


UPDATE: I ended up revising the names, both to latin words which have something to do with them at least. Not only that, but I've removed the info dump in favour of a briefer, more character sensitive passage of information.

The sun was shining high in the sky, not quite as warm as a summer on the home world of Solum however the temperature was inviting none the less. Pexus, literally name after the Latin word for “new”, was smaller and lighter than Solum, about eighty five percent of its mass. This made all the difference when it came to the size of the flora and fauna on the planet. Trees grew metres taller than similar trees on Solum and leaves were significantly larger, attributed to the relatively cooler climate. The few animal species that had been studied were sizable compared to that of Solum. It was like he’d stepped out into a different era.

I've also revised my idea of the relation to original Earth. The issues facing Earth (that we currently observe... and debate) have been overcome through some means, and at the present time, it has become the intergalactic capital. Being both the original human world and the capital of Mankind, it's reverred. As such, when colonisers settled "New Earth", they decided to use the Latin word for "earth", both to distinguish it but also to pay homage to our Earth, given it was essentially the "homeworld" of this new galaxy, not to mention being very similar to Earth (within 95% of it's geography and ecosystem).

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I want to visit the Sicilian galaxy. I bet the food is awesome. :) –  Lauren Ipsum Apr 13 '11 at 12:50
    
They have lobster :) P.S. Can you guess where the name comes from? –  Nick Bedford Apr 13 '11 at 22:07
    
wouldn't it be aragosta? :) Not an idea; enlighten me. I love inside jokes. –  Lauren Ipsum Apr 14 '11 at 1:52
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The constellation in which Messier 33 (the real galaxy) is located is Triangulum. An early name of the constellation was Sicilia, because Ceres, patron goddess of Sicily, was claimed to have begged Jupiter that the island be placed in the heavens. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangulum –  Nick Bedford Apr 14 '11 at 2:35
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For that nugget alone I would buy your book. thank you! –  Lauren Ipsum Apr 14 '11 at 12:01

7 Answers 7

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Just from the information you've provided, it seems you're creating a convoluted and potentially confusing situation for no good reason. If, however, this is important to the story, you can always refer to "Earth" (formerly "New Earth") and to "Old Earth".

Using a slightly different version of the word would work, but I believe that's already been done: Gene Wolfe's "Urth", and possibly elsewhere. I'd rename the new planet to something else if possible.

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Well I decided some Latin wouldn't go down too bad and changed it "Solum". Fits a lot better. –  Nick Bedford Apr 13 '11 at 2:59

I think it might be confusing if the original Earth ever appears in the story. If the citizens of the new Earth never have any contact with the old earth, it should be OK.

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Considering the possibly that it may at least be referenced or even travelled to (technological marvels not withstanding) you have a point. It may get messy. –  Nick Bedford Apr 13 '11 at 2:37

This passage reads like an info dump—a lecture from the author to the reader, with no strong purpose in the story.

If you could name the planet something else with no loss to the story, that tells me that the name isn't important to the story. If I'm right about that, then call it something else, and delete this passage.

If the name is important to the story, find some way to impart this information through a character, at a time when it matters to the character.

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Thanks Dale. Usually when I go back I find these "info dumps" and try to see if I can fit them in like you said. –  Nick Bedford Apr 13 '11 at 4:29
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I agree with what you're saying here, but most of it isn't pertinent to the question being asked. How to convey a piece of information is a different issue than what that information should be. And OP said it's a first draft. Your middle paragraph is spot on, though. I'm editing your answer to re-focus - just re-ordering the paragraphs. –  Standback Apr 13 '11 at 4:35
    
What @Standback said, additionally, it's considered very rude to give an author criticism he didn't ask for. He had his reasons for writing it that way, and if he didn't ask for input he likely already knew what you were going to say. –  Nathan C. Tresch May 5 '12 at 0:20

Rule of thumb: you want to avoid confusing the reader. A confused reader is not enjoying your story.

But, that doesn't mean "never do anything that might confuse the reader." It means, "if you want to do something that might confuse the reader, make sure to take steps to make sure it's not confusing."

It sounds as though, in your particular case, the name choice wasn't particularly crucial to your world-building, so just changing the name is a perfectly easy and simple solution. I'd like to talk for a moment about the more interesting case - where referring to the planet as "Earth" is important in some way, and the author is interested in keeping that.

First of all, there's a lot of examples in SF of appropriating words like "Earth" or "human" for other planets and races. This can be done for various reasons; I think most common is to get across that these people see themselves as normal. Aliens from planet Glooglag won't think of themselves as exotic "Glooglagians," as far as they're concerned, they're just people. They might even call themselves "Glooglagians," but that word, to them, means what "human" means to us.

My experience with such stories is that this kind of substitution can definitely work. It creates a certain dissonance, but it's really not a tough concept for a reader to wrap his head around, so as long as the dissonance is clearly the author's intention, and he makes it clear pretty much upfront that "Earth" isn't our Earth, this is definitely workable. SF readers are particularly open to unusual world-building and re-definition of common concepts; if you tell them the planet's called "Earth," then they'll usually take that in stride - particularly if the unusual naming serves some purpose which, by the end of the story, they'll come to appreciate.

So, in summary:

  • If you're not trying to achieve any particular effect by the "confusing" naming, it's simpler to avoid it. Just like you wouldn't arbitrarily decide to name two characters "Bob," even though in real life that'd be pretty plausible.
  • If you are trying to achieve a particular effect, go for it. This isn't something so confusing that it should stop you. Just make sure the reader understands what you want to be clear.
  • If there are interactions between "New Earth" and "Old Earth," the double-naming can actually do some pretty awesome things - much in the same way that a time story where present-time Bob meets future Bob, or a family drama where Bob Jr. faces off with his dad. In this case, you've got to work harder to make sure your readers always understand exactly who you're referring to - but, with some effort, that's usually quite possible to achieve by attention to context, additional tags that are specific to one or the other, etc. So you can decide for yourself whether the trade-off is worthwhile.
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Thanks. I think the general idea with how I'm setting up my "future" is that the humans still have a natural tie to their original planet, even if most don't ever visit it. Perhaps the issues we face today had been overcome and it's now a intergalactic "core" planet. But as far as naming this New Earth goes, I've been convinced to go with what is in my updated passage for now. –  Nick Bedford Apr 13 '11 at 22:05
    
For your last point though, there are cases where leaving the reader confused are reasonable. For example, with narration tied to a character and that character becomes confused in a conversation, it is perfectly acceptable to leave the reader no more confident of the correct interpretation. The key is don’t leave the reader confused unless you have made it clear to the reader that they should be mildly confused (the confusion usually gets cleared up later). –  Kevin Cathcart Sep 13 '11 at 14:55

Although it's been answered already (and it's a good answer), I'd recommend you reconsider your chosen course of action and think about the implications.

First of all, it would be highly unlikely for people who were originally from "our" Earth to only mention "Earth" using the Latin phrase. All their history books and reference materials - anything to do with Earth - are likely to use the word Earth.

Second, the reader is not going to associate "Solum" with "Earth", unless you explicitly mention this linkage to them. In the example you've given, it just sounds like Solum and Pexus are any old planets, and there is no linkage between the two.

In summary, you're overly confusing things for yourself and the reader. It is far more likely that "Earth" will still be called "Earth" (or some derivative close enough for the reader to know it's Earth), but the current planet will adopt its own name. If they referred to it as "New Earth", over time this could shorten "Newurth", or "Nurth".

You're better off keeping things simple and clear for yourself and your readership.

A final point related to what you've written: if the characters on this new planet have no first hand knowledge of Earth, it's highly unlikely they would make any reference at all to a comparison between "New Earth" and "Earth" as you've done with regards to trees/gravity and so on. The comparison you're making comes across as if someone from Earth is writing the story or is our point of view, and unless that is the case, you are breaking my sense of realism as a reader. I know I'm from Earth, I know I'm reading a story about somewhere far away that's different. Let me work it out through inference, rather than have you tell me flat out.

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Thanks Craig. I used one of the Latin words for "new" to name this newly discovered planet. I may expand a little more on their relation. Solum is the word for "ground", "land", "earth" even. For the colonisers, it's significant, and maybe I should briefly explain why it was called Solum, (in reverance to Earth). –  Nick Bedford Apr 13 '11 at 22:12

As another side to Standback's answer, in scifi, you don't want to -explain- things, you want the explanation to come out as a matter of how people talk. Most of the fun of scifi is figuring out exactly whats going on. That is to say, -some- confusion is OK, giving the reader a chance to figure it out; you don't want to confuse the reader unintentionally (in your example, by having the reader not knowing which Earth is which (unless that of course is a major point of the story that they are actually confused).

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I prefer the first version, in fact I think it's quite good; it kind of sounds like Douglas Adams. When you describe the naming issue like that, with the public vote and all, you are in fact describing the people living on the planet (even though we have come so far we still spend time on these silly things) rather than the planet iself, and this is more interesting.

The second version is just "techno babble" to me, and I lost interest quite fast. Also, in most scifi/fantasy I find made up names annoying -- You shouldn't have to memorize a bunch of stuff to be able to follow the story. "Earth" is pretty simple to understand.

Besides, when you write Earth of course, referred to (...) you surprise the reader (exciting), which is always good, while when you write home world of Solum the reader knows that there will be an explanation (boring).

My three cents.

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Thanks for the extra cent :) –  Nick Bedford May 8 '12 at 5:14

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