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Settling a region and making it exploitable

Discussion in 'World Building' started by ATKH, Jan 19, 2017.

  1. ATKH

    ATKH Scribe

    In my fantasy world, there is a small continent where dragons used to be at the top of the food chain. Humans had tried to settle it a number of times over the past few centuries because of the wealth of natural resources (mainly metal) they expected to find there, but the extremely dangerous conditions together with a long voyage by sea made it impossible to make full use of the land. Instead it became a place to send prisoners; There was one human town and port on the coast, and a mine where those sentenced to hard labour worked, but apart from that the land remained off-limits until a type of rifle heavy enough to kill a dragon with a few shots was introduced.
    Modernly equipped troops were quickly sent there by a significant world power, and in a few decades humans had decimated the dragon population, built enough infrastructure to support an army of 300 000 men (i.e. a few roads and bridges for marching and trade, some farms and garrisons that would later become settlements) and created good-quality maps - meaning half of the country was now ready enough for large-scale immigration and exploitation of resources.

    Assuming the land is about three quarters the size of Australia, how long could it realistically take for a steady influx of settlers to transform one half of it from a bunch of military outposts into a habitable, productive country with towns, roads and an industrial railway network? The technology would, at the start, resemble that of mid-19th-century Earth, and there would be significant state investments for the construction of railroads and such.

    How long would it take to construct 2000 kilometres of railroad if there was no shortage of workers? Or begin making use of a large oil field? I have found it very difficult to determine whether I am looking at a period of years, decades, or perhaps a century.

    This is my very first post on the discussion side of this forum, so please feel free to ask me to expand on something in case I've been less than clear with where I'm headed.
  2. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

    I don't know an exact time but I'd look at the settlement of the east coast of America and that of Australia for time scale.
    It would also depend on the resources available. 2000km of railroad could be laid in a week if you had enough resources and the right geography...
    I'd break it down. For example, things might take longer than you think. It took Britain 70 years to map India with any accuracy in the 19C. But on the other-hand, Britain went from having no railroad to having thousands of miles in twenty years, tens of thousands in the twenty years after that...
    It could take as little as 50 years or up to 250 to more fully settle a place as large as you say....
    ATKH likes this.
  3. ATKH

    ATKH Scribe

    The breakdown idea is really good, it's definitely easier to work that way.

    Where the mapping part is concerned, three daring attempts to sail around the continent have already been made - one of them was successful, and aboard was a cartographer who managed to draw the shoreline with some accuracy.

    I imagine the first things to be built (well, besides residential buildings) when moving to a new place would be roads, but here it is mostly about improving those already built by the army, which shouldn't take horribly long.

    Then the railways, which are nicely connected to industry: As passenger traffic is less of a priority here, enough mines and other profitable sources of raw materials need to have been discovered before the construction of railways. But since there already was a settlement and a mine in the "human part" before the military campaign, I'd imagine that some exploration of natural resources already happened during and even before the war on dragons (In fact, a new town will eventually be named after an explorer who disappeared long ago but whose camp and journal, containing maps and important notes, are discovered by an engineer). So once the region, or a significant part of it at least, has been declared fit for settlements, extraction of resources will already be generating a lot of income for the mainland in about 10 years. Which means that getting transport to be as effective as possible becomes a priority, leading to a large railway construction project.
    The US Transcontinental railroad was built with 19th-century tech in six years, but this one will take another ten years to construct, thanks to tough terrain and conditions, and later on the threat of a dragon attack (although there is no problem of trespassing on native territory in this case).

    Now that I think of it, people probably start moving to the safer parts of this region even when the military campaign is ongoing; it comes to life as a "frontier country", where life is tough and occasionally dangerous, but where the settlers have infinite opportunities to build their future fortunes through hard work. The transition from "war zone" to "civilized-ish colonial nation" is not sharp, but instead happens gradually.
    Because the military has been around since the start, organizing law enforcement and keeping safety at a tolerable level is not too much of a challenge once the dragons have been dealt with.

    People will probably go to new parts of the region in this order: (explorers) --> military --> prospectors and pioneers --> mine and railway workers etc ---> immigrants (in service industries and such). Since it is a large geographical area with some near-uninhabitable parts, not all settlements of the land will ever progress to the final stage.

    Does this kind of a timeline of the first 100 years sound too implausible?:

    The military campaign lasts 30 years. During the first 10, there are very few non-military persons moving there out of their own free will, but as more and more of the region becomes safe, pioneers begin to bring human civilization with them.

    The first large-scale railway construction project is launched 10 years after the campaign has ended. At this stage, there are quite many small mining settlements, and most of the army garrisons have towns surrounding them as the soldiers remaining have brought family with them. The original human town on the coast has evolved into an actual city, serving as a busy hub of trade and shipments.

    The first large railroad is finished in 10 years, and the decade following it sees more railway construction, resulting in a good network of industrial transport (and even some passenger traffic).

    10 years after that, the first university opens in the old coast city, which is now officially the capital. The largest city has most of the services available in mainland cities, including banks, schools (including a military academy), a hospital, two newspapers, a book publishing agency and an embassy. The region also has its own local government and a number of members in the host country's parliament.
    In the following decades, industrial production (not only production of raw materials) increases, and by the end of this region's first century, there is one important port city, another slightly smaller one, about five large-ish inland towns, a network of roads and railways and a budding independence movement.
    By now, the introduction of military airplanes has driven the dragon threat permanently away, and the few dragons that exist are in zoos or pets of the wealthy.

    And whoa, I got a sudden urge to write about the experiences of a fighter pilot who goes against a dragon o_o
  4. SumnerH

    SumnerH Scribe

    100 years sounds a little long, but could about right given the dragon scourge. The US goes from Lewis and Clark traversing a largely unknown (to the colonists) mid/northwest c. 1804 to Washington and Oregon having just shy of a half million population each (and California thrice that) in 1900.

    It's really more like 50-65 years for the US to develop that territory: By 1865 or so, railroads are running regularly and California has legitimate cities and is building universities and other advanced/specialized structures. And it wasn't just a coastal oddity, either--the midwest is populated by then. St Louis, MO is 160,000 by 1860, with a real university.

    But population is very driven by particular booms (e.g. the 49ers)--if there were a big gold strike in the 1820s, the timeline could be accelerated a fair bit, especially on the coasts.
    ATKH and SergeiMeranov like this.
  5. SergeiMeranov

    SergeiMeranov Scribe

    100 years seems a bit long to me as well. It took the US 2 years (1853-55) to survey 1,000,000 square kilometers of the American West in preparation for the first Transcontinental railway connecting Alameda, CA to Omaha, NE. The railroad itself was built in 6 (1863-69) years and was around 3,000 km long.

    I'd also point out that if the area was as resource rich as you suggested what is preventing people from exploiting the territory en masse once the dragons are gone? It seems like every entrepreneur and their brother would be chomping at the bit to get over there to get their slice of virgin territory brimming with resources. That would only serve to push development along faster.
    ATKH likes this.
  6. ATKH

    ATKH Scribe

    Good points. Really good, in fact.

    I think I've overestimated the effect of dragons on the spread of civilization a bit. Dragons are a species that's had no natural enemies, and then suddenly the mainland pours a huge amount of guys with deadly weapons into their homeland with the sole purpose of eradicating them. The more vulnerable ones, i.e. young, old and small dragons, will be the first to fall, and with the introduction of plane warfare even the giants won't have much of a chance as the army sweeps through their habitat. And during the campaign, the soldiers themselves will be doing fair bit of exploring and exploiting - and bringing family over, at least to the coast capital. This means a demand for schooling and other services even before the actual mass immigration phase.

    And when the dragon threat becomes less of a threat, and thousands of soldiers have nothing real to do but aren't yet allowed (or don't want) to go back home, why wouldn't they be building railroads and such?

    The region is rich in resources, but quite tough to farm in places (it just so happens that the lands with most farming potential are among the last to be deemed safe for civilians). As the mainland is recovering from an economic dip, and a handful of other countries face severe issues, at the moment the region ceases to be off-limits for civilians there will indeed be a huge rush of immigrants and money. Not only those who just want land to live off or are eager to gain a fortune from the mining boom, but also established investors and rich people who seek to get richer.

    I'd go with 75 years from the start of the conscious "undragoning" effort to a state comparable to a developed extension of a country - it could be less, but then again immigration only opens up after the dragons have been suficiently deal with.
  7. shangrila

    shangrila Inkling

    You'd have to take the dragons into account though. Even decimated, they'd still be a threat to any expansion attempts (especially if they're winged like traditional dragons) so a direct comparison to the colonization in our world might not make as much sense. Remember, those people were dealing with people militarily inferior to them in multiple ways, whereas even with rifles able to kill them I imagine dragons would still be a significant threat.
    ATKH likes this.

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