November 1, 2015

Slice of PIE: Thoughts On the Building Of Worlds the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Spokane, August 2015, I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. This is event #2633 (page 60) . The link is provided below…?Zz

In the, the panelists don’t have to go quite that far back. They’ll talk about some of the factors they think are important in building a world for their fiction. What are some of the most unique places they’ve written about/read about?
Gwen Whiting (m), Richard Kadrey, Kay Kenyon, Matt Wallace

While it may be true that the panelists in this session weren’t asked to go back to the beginning of their worlds, I’d like to point out that a major historical fiction author DID. In CENTENNIAL, James A. Michener begins like this:


“WHEN THE EARTH WAS ALREADY ANCIENT, of an age incomprehensible to man, an event of basic importance occurred in the area which would later be known as Colorado.

“To appreciate its significance, one must understand the structure of the earth, and to do this, one must start at the vital center.

"Since the earth is not a perfect sphere, the radius from center to surface varies. At the poles it is 3950 miles and at the equator 3963. At the time we are talking about, Colorado lay about the same distance from the equator as it does now, and its radius was 3956. Those miles were composed in this manner.

“At the center then, as today, was a ball of solid material, very heavy and incredibly hot, made up mostly of iron; this extended for about 770 miles. Around it was a cover about 1375 miles thick, which was not solid, but which could not be called liquid either, for at that pressure and that temperature, nothing could be liquid, as we know that word. It permitted movement, but it did not easily flow. It transmitted heat, but it did not bubble. It is best described as having characteristics with which we are not familiar, perhaps like a warm plastic.”

While it might seem excessive in an Earth-based novel, Michener used it to good effect by clearly defining the location of each book. That the “places” in Michener’s novels are characters is inarguable.

The question is then, “What makes us think that science fiction and fantasy writers have to pay LESS attention to the formation of their worlds?”

Matt Wallace and Richard Kadrey write speculative fiction outside of my interest zone, but I flew through the books of Kay Kenyon an ended up following her through her newsletter. Again, she doesn’t expound on the how or when or why she created her worlds – more’s the pity – but it’s clear that she had to do something for each one.

I stumbled across her book MAXIMUM ICE years ago as I challenged myself to try new authors regularly. In it, a space ark returns in failure and the Earth has been overrun by a storage device – sort of like if books overwhelmed libraries and falling all over the place, crushed most of the people. The survivors set up enclaves and religious orders to deal with the end result and the main character has to figure it all out.

Her ENTIRE AND THE ROSE series is even more complex: “In a land-locked galaxy that tunnels through our own, the Entire is a bizarre and seductive mix of long-lived quasi-human and alien beings gathered under a sky of fire, called the bright. A land of wonders, the Entire is sustained by monumental storm walls and an exotic, never-ending river. Over all, the elegant and cruel Tarig rule supreme…Titus Quinn, former star pilot, bereft of his beloved wife and daughter who are assumed dead by everyone on earth except Quinn. Believing them trapped in a parallel universe—one where he himself may have been imprisoned—he returns to the Entire without resources…” While she doesn’t talk about building the Entire from scratch, its complexity shouts that she has reams of notes on how things work and how they came to be.

My question though, still remains: “What makes us think that science fiction and fantasy writers have to pay LESS attention to the formation of their worlds?”
Are we shy about our skills? Is the nature of speculative such that we don’t tolerate reading about worlds – we just want the killing to start? Or are we so unsure of our place in the literary world that most writers feel that they can’t possibly take that much time to get the “action” started. Even Gene Wolfe, Julie Czerneda, David Brin, Greg Benford, or Hannu Rajaniemi don’t spend time defining their worlds – and in this I confess that I feel great frustration.

Anyone else?

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