The Hudson Archipelago is the setting for Blue Caldera. It is set in an alternate world very similar to ours but a few major geological differences: primarily, the North American, South American, and Caribbean tectonic plates are mostly submerged, resulting in a vast ocean stretching from Europe to Asia. Roughly in the middle of this ocean, in a location similar to the Yellowstone Caldera in our world, lies a volcanic archipelago of islands. The history of the world roughly mirrors our own with similar events and historical figures, although the timing and details of this history often much different than in our own world. Blue Caldera and its related stories focus on this archipelago, and this article serves as an introduction to it.
The largest islands are two crescent moon shaped masses that face each other across a deep channel. this central low area is a crater from a massive caldera eruption. Volcanic features including thermal pools and geysers dot the island. Tall, mountainous features are capped with glaciers, and cut through in the north with deep fjords. Away to the northeast, a few younger, active volcanic islands demonstrate the movement of the hot-spot beneath the surface.
Flora and Fauna
The flora and fauna of the island lives in defiance of harsh elements. Few tree species have gained foothold on the island, with wind-warped cypress the most notable. However, shrubs and grasses cover most of the sub-alpine slopes. Birds of a great variety nest throughout the island, as there are few endogenous predators. Seals and walrus live along the rocky shores; bats live in the many mountainous caves. But the most famous of species on the island were a species of mammoth. I say were, as these are now extinct from the island, the only remaining population of them living in captivity in London. It is of great speculation and debate amongst evolutionists as to how this population came to live on the island in the first place. The original name of the islands, as named by their earliest settlers, was Filarland, or land of elephants.
These earliest settlers also brought the primary predator to the island: the wild fjelletkatt (mountain cat), a descendent of the Norwegian skoggskatt (forest cat). These cats are numerous in the alpine bushland of the islands, finding easy pickings amongst the many nesting birds there.
That brings us to human history of the archipelago. The original settlers set out from Norway, restocked in Iceland, and from there continued West, believing there to be land in that direction. The expedition was mostly lost at sea, but two boats were swept westward and were shipwrecked on the archipelago. With little to repair their ships, they remained on the island, living a hunter/gatherer/fisher lifestyle.
The islands remained unknown to Europe until well after Columbus's third expedition in which he finally reached the Philippines. The exact history here is not well-documented, so it is easiest to tell from a European perspective: the trans-atlantic trade had been well-established, with the British/Japanese alliance one of the more dominant powers in the Atlantic. However, Barbary piracy was becoming problematic, and was no more contained to the Mediterranean but was creeping out into the mid Atlantic.
A young captain named Henry Hudson believed that the extent of Barbary piracy indicated that they had a base of operations in the North Atlantic. He received a fleet of ships with which to attempt to hunt down the pirate island. This mission was spectacularly unsuccessful, with most of the fleet lost in the hunt, and Hudson himself disgraced. Still convinced that the island was out there, he took on the identity of an escaped convict, moved to Morocco, spent a decade immersing himself in Berber culture while taking a series of jobs on ships. Eventually, he was recruited onto an Atlantic pirate ship, and was at last transported to the archipelago. The story of how he liberated several prisoners there including members of his original fleet, is highly disputed: the official account holds that he never wavered in his intent, but other accounts hold that he would have happily remained there as a pirate had some of the British prisoners not recognized him and exposed him. What is not disputed is that he was killed in the escape, and in 1642, 25 years after he set out to discover the pirate island, a crew of men brought a liberated frigate in to Plymouth with tales of Hudson's heroism and the location of the archipelago mapped out. A first British assault on the island failed, and only on a second attempt, with assistance from the Japanese fleet and an overland assault, was the pirate island at last taken in 1649.
The plan had always been for the Japanese and British to hold joint control over the island - such had been the agreement by which the Shogun participated in the assault - and the geography of the archipelago, with its two major islands - made this an easy division. Each established a colony on its share of the island toward the south end of the inner harbour. For two hundred years, these colonies went from outposts to trading ports to thriving cities of their own right. The mineral richness of the archipelago - great seams of copper and zinc and bauxite ran through it - brought heavy industry to the island. Agriculture proved largely futile, though recent advances in trait selection gives hope that crops suitable to the harsh climate of the island can be established.
After the fall of the Shogunate, the Japanese Emperor, eager to demonstrate his reach, classified the Japanese island as a Prefecture in 1823. This originally prompted concern from the British and led to a period of rocky relations between the two. Both empires were dealing with unrest at home: the Japanese Empire struggling to implement change in the face of rebellions from the Daimyo and Samurai classes; and the British Empire facing resistance to industrialization in the form of Luddite riots. These riots quickly evolved beyond their original mandate to encompass a wide range of grievances with the empire, but industrial works and institutes of science and invention remained important targets.
In 1841, the two empires, eager to resolve the governance of the archipelago, signed a new treaty, and began construction of a vast bridge between the cities of Hudson and Moromoto - an undertaking referred to as The Grand Handshake for its symbolic importance.
Because of their relative youth, the cities of Hudson and Moromoto are respected as two of the more modern in the world. Due to the lack of local sources of wood, stone architecture was heavily used in Hudson. In Moromoto, wood was imported from Japan at great expense for construction. Funiculars were constructed to navigate the hilly terrain, drawing power from geothermal converters. Pressurized steam from these geothermal sources is also through an underground network to factories and smelters, forming another income source for the local governments.
Status as of 1852
A decade later, The Grand Handshake remains uncompleted and relations between the Empires are not always smooth. Both have accused one-another of attempting to exert control through covert and underhanded means. But the islands form one of the busiest ports in the world. For a period, airship travel between London and Hudson was a popular trip amongst the upper class particularly to take advantage of the thermal baths. While a series of disasters and disappearances have led to the end of commercial airship travel, it remains a popular destination for sea voyages. Spanish, Dutch, French, and Berber traders all make use of the ports, and port tariffs and fees account for a significant portion of the local government's revenue. Yet the foreign presences on the island also contribute to fears of covert operations. On the British side, the Bureau of Imperial Interests was established to monitor such activities.
In the face of the unrest around London and given the availability of all manner of material goods, it has become a frequent occurrence for those people of science and invention to relocate to Hudson, though its reputation remains as a culturally backwards and morally dubious place, due to the availability and prevalence of vices from all over the world.