One of the most celebrated feats in SF worldbuilding is Helliconia. The creation of Brian W. Aldiss, helped by numerous experts from Oxford University in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Helliconia is the star of the Helliconia Trilogy: Helliconia Spring (1982), Helliconia Summer (1983) and Helliconia Winter (1985).
Helliconia is located in the Freyr system. The Freyr system is located approximately 1,000 light-years from Sol, in the direction of the constellation of Ophiuchus. Freyr is not visible from Earth, due to intervening dust clouds located about 700 light-years from Earth and 300 from Freyr.
The system contains two stars: Freyr, a blue supergiant, and Batalix, an orange dwarf slightly smaller and cooler than Sol. Freyr is between 10 and 11 million years old; Batalix is more than 5 billion years old. Batalix was caught by the larger star’s gravity during a close encounter approximately 8 million years ago and has been in an elliptical orbit around Freyr ever since. The system also contains four planets, all in orbit around Batalix.
Batalix is a G4 orange dwarf with a radius 0.94 that of Sol and a luminosity approximately 0.8 that of Sol.
Freyr is an A-class blue supergiant with a radius of 65 Sols and a luminosity 60,000 times that of Sol.
Batalix orbits Freyr once every 2,592 Earth years. One of these orbits is known as a “Great Year”. Batalix’s orbit is highly elliptical, ranging from 710 AU at apastron to 236 AU at periastron.
Batalix is circled by four planets, including Helliconia and Aganip, which is the innermost planet closest to Helliconia. Helliconia takes 480 local days (which are 13.6% longer than Earth’s) to orbit Batalix once, at a distance of approximately 0.9 AU. This is the so-called “small year”, with small seasonal variations. However, it is the “Great Year” which has a far greater impact on the planet.
Helliconia formed in orbit around the star Batalix and spent almost all of its existence as a relatively cool world circling a cool star. Helliconia’s pronounced axial tilt (35°, compared to Earth’s 23.5°) makes the world even colder, with large ice caps at the poles.
These conditions resulted in the evolution of a species equipped to deal with permanent cold weather: the ancipitals (colloquially, “phagors”). A biped species covered in thick fur, the ancipitals developed rudimentary language and a hunter-gatherer lifestyle by the time of the event known as the Catastrophe.
Approximately eight million years ago, Batalix’s galactic orbit took it too close to the supergiant star Freyr and it was captured by the larger, younger star. During this event, Helliconia lost its moon (T’Senh-Hrr in the ancipital language) and at least one other planet in the Batalix system (possibly a gas giant which had helped clear the inner system of comets and asteroids) was ejected. Freyr also lost a binary star companion in the encounter.
Once the encounter was complete Batalix was locked into its current orbit. The ancipitals found their existence varying from their preferred freezing conditions at apastron to unbearably hot conditions at periastron. However, other species on the planet found the new arrangements more pleasing. One race of hominids, formerly trapped in the narrow equatorial band which remained ice-free all year round, was able to spread itself across the planet and thrived in the Great Summers, only to retreat during the Great Winters. Over the next eight million years, this species evolved into a race almost completely indistinguishable from humans.
The Freyr system was first detected by Earth in the year 3145 AD, when a joint US-Chinese fleet entered the intervening dust cloud region and saw Freyr for the first time, 300 light-years beyond. They detected the presence of Batalix and possible planets in orbit, which was unusual given Freyr’s young age. One planet, located in Batalix’s life zone, was highly promising and given the designation G4PBX/4582-4-3.
They dispatched a robotic exploration craft to the system, equipped with self-replicating systems and over 500 human zygotes in storage. This craft entered the Freyr system in 3600 AD and landed on Aganip, the next planet from Helliconia towards Batalix. This craft then constructed a space habitat, the Avernus, and populated it with 512 humans birthed from artificial wombs. The crew of the Avernus was directed to study Helliconia from an orbit 1,500 miles above the planet and beam relevant information back to Earth, even though it would take a millennia to arrive.
At 1.28 Earth masses, Helliconia is somewhat larger than Earth. The planet possesses three continents: the northern polar landmass of Sibornal, the southern polar landmass of Hespagorat and the tropical central continent of Campannlat. Campannlat is joined to Sibornal via the isthmus of Chalce; it was also once joined the Hespagorat via the Straits of Cadmer, but the land-bridge in that region collapsed some aeons ago.
The planet’s northern icecap is enormous, extending south to the northern tropic. Sibornal is mostly uninhabitable due to the icecap, aside from several coastal regions where favourable local geography allows warmer regions to flourish. The Helliconian nations of Carcampan, Bribahr, Shivenink, Loraj, Uskutoshk, Upper Hazziz and Kuj-Juvec lie on Sibornal. The massive Shivenink Mountains are the most notable geographical feature of the northern continent.
Campannlat is the most populous continent of Helliconia. Its nations include the mighty theocratic power of Pannoval, trade-focused Oldorando and coastal Borlien. Other powers include Kace, Randonan, Ponipot, Vallgos, Brasterl and Findowel. Major geographic features include the central Quzint Mountains, the Western Barrier peaks, the Madura Desert (the largest desert on the planet) and the tongue-twisting landmass of Nyktryhk: a colossal region of shield volcanoes, mountains and plateaus rising 49,200 feet. This region is uninhabitable by humans, who mostly avoid the high places where free ancipitals still dwell. During the winters, the ancipitals descend from Nyktryhk in great numbers and try to reassert control of Helliconia from their humanoid rivals, with mixed results.
The southern polar continent is Hespagorat, although it is less dominated by ice than Sibornal. Nations of Hespagorat include Pegovin, Hespateh, Throssa, Iskahandt and Dimariam. There are huge mountain ranges in Pegovin and Throssa, but otherwise little of geographic interest in this region.
The planet’s largest ocean is the Climent, which lies west of Campannlat. Marginal seas of this ocean include the Pannoval Sea, Kowass Sea and Sibornal Sea. East of Campannlat lies the Ardent Sea, which meets the Climent Ocean north of Pegovin. Marginal seas of the Ardent include the Gulf of Chace and Scimitar Sea. The Sea of Eagles and Narmosset Sea divide Campannlat from Hespagorat; the Cadmer Straits link the Climent Ocean to the Narmosset Sea.
The seasons on Helliconia last for centuries, as Batalix takes 2,592 (Earth) years to complete one revolution around Freyr. At the time of closest approach, Freyr becomes 30% brighter than Batalix in the sky and bombards the planet with greater heat, until the equatorial band becomes uncomfortably hot. At the time of greatest separation, Freyr becomes merely the brightest star in the sky and the icecaps advance south and north into the central continental region.
During summers, the Helliconian humanoids are the dominant species on the planet, but during the winters the ancipitals or phagors become dominant once again.
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