November 28, 2011

Charles Stross on worldbuilding for SF stories

Filed under: Books, Economics, History, Media, Science, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:46

This is the sort of thing that more science fiction authors should take into account before they write, but not enough seem to do:

So here are some rules of thumb I use, tending towards an increasingly narrow focus. (Sorry if you were expecting me to address the broader uses of confabulation as a fictional tool; this is very much a set of practical guidelines rather than an examination of the theory behind the activity.)

1. Humans are interested in reading fiction about humans.

Constraint #1 on any work of fiction is that it needs to provide an environment in which recognizable human protagonists can exist. If they’re not human (e.g. “Diaspora”, by Greg Egan; “Saturn’s Children”, by me) you need to provide some sort of continuity with the human and give the reader reasons to feel concerned for them. Or you can go for the “they’re not human, don’t look human, and they have no connection with us”, but what you get is either borderline-unreadable at best, or suffers from human-mind-in-a-giant-land-snail-body syndrome (which risks demolishing the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief).

So I’m going to focus on providing a human environment …

2. In general, High Fantasy steals its dress from pre-modern history; Urban Fantasy buys off-the-shelf in TK-Maxx: and Science Fiction goes for that bold futurist look.

Which is to say, if you’re going to write a trilogy with a young soldier on the rise and a throne and an evil emperor, you can do a lot worse than plunder the decline and fall of the Roman Empire for your social background. Note, however, that you’ll do a lot better if you read some social history texts rather than believing what you see in the movies.

That last bit is especially good advice, as the more you know about cultures other than the one you were raised in, the better you can understand why things are different. Ancient Babylonians were not just Englishmen with funny clothes. Classic Greece, for all that it provided a lot of the underpinnings of our western culture, was functionally very different from life as we know it now.

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress