Monday, July 30, 2012


Hello Reader!  Welcome to the first of multiple blogposts on world-building.  What is world-building?  Click that link and you'll find out.  But a quick and dirty summary of the concept, is that sometimes in Syfy literature you've got such fantastical concepts that they wouldn't fit into the already present world around us.  So you have to build a whole new world around your concepts, justifying them, explaining them, giving them context so that the reader can feel immersed in your story.  And so you don't look like a damned fool for putting proton cannons in the 18th century.  Even if it's a really cool idea that the Revolutionary War was fought with laser guns.

George Washington vs Zombies, a movie I'd pay to see.

What's the essence of world-building?  In fantasy, there are certain rules to world-building that you can't really break.  Science and technology are scarce.  Men must have beards.  If they don't, they're either smarmy weasels or elves.  And swords have to be ubiquitous.  If you can, name them.  In science fiction, you've also got a set of rules.  Don't go outside the realm of science, otherwise you'll look really foolish.  You don't have to include aliens, but if you don't have them, have something scarier to take their place.  And set your story in the future, please.

These rules aren't followed all of the time, but if you pay attention you'll see them in full effect in almost every single Syfy story.  Why?  Who knows.  They'are archaic and extremely limiting.  I took a Screenplay class my last quarter in school, and it was very enlightening for several reasons.  But it was also extremely restrictive.  When going over my plot and my story - for that class I decided to adapt my novel into a screenplay - the TA of the class decided that I could not have the world that I had built.  It would simply be impossible to sell to an audience, much less producers who would be buying my work.

Sometimes I want to punch Syfy authors in the face.

In the year 3096, on Earth, you would expect a post-apocalyptic society that's torn apart by perpetual struggles for resources and plagued by disease.  Or a utopian civilization hellbent on keeping a lid on just how screwed up everything's become.  Neither idea is very appealing for a story, and not just because both are excruciatingly cliche.  They are also really unrealistic.  How many times did people like Ray Bradbury, George Orwell, and Aldous Huxley warn us of our impending doom?  And it didn't happen.  Look at the Cold War.  Everyday, Americans were told that they could be blown off the face of the planet.  And it didn't happen.  Because it works, and it sells, Syfy authors give very little credit to humanity.

But look at us.  We've survived plagues, we've survived genocides, we've survived famine and wars and bloodshed and nuclear crises.  We are a hardy bunch, worse than cockroaches and more resilient than we expect.  So what if we did end up in a apocalyptic war against invading aliens who have superior technology, strength and numbers to us.  And instead of being utterly destroyed, we end up in a détente.  The aliens, their plans and reasoning unknown to us, get a portion of humanity's land and in exchange they lay off the whole command and conquer bit.  So now, instead of a really droll and overdone plot about humanity FIGHTING BACK, you can have something far more nuanced and interesting: humanity struggling with peace.

I've basically revealed the bare bones of the world in my novel.  The wrathful Howlas invaded Earth around 2020, inciting a war that was only eventually stopped by the Decadent - the frightening use of a dozen well-placed H-bombs near the planets atmosphere, setting off a chain reaction that decimated the Howlas' forces.  Over the course of the next one thousand or so years, the Howlas and humanity's allies (Nymphs, and sometimes the Hyths) would clash with each other.  Halfway through that period, the Mags enter the fray, coming out of hiding to fight their ancient enemies the Howlas.  It all ends in the Fourth World War when the Howlas, the Mags, Humans and Nymphs all come to a stalemate.  From there on out it's an uneasy peace for 26 years, which is where the novel starts.

Now that's a world I'm interested in, and not just because I wrote it.  Seriously.  How does society function, when you've got a thousand years worth of cross-species intermingling going on?  Where do the basic functions of society like money, culture, holiday celebrations, education go from there?  How is segregation dealt with?  How is language dealt with?

Can humans and aliens fall in love?  Without the gross implications of alien sex?

I guess a really immediate way to relate to this kind of world is to look at Mass Effect.  Yes, the video game does have some elements of the whole "aliens are way better than humans and we're all just shitty shitheads who can't do shit", but overall it's a great portrayal of a society that has fully integrated - to the best of its ability - humans and aliens.  They have wars and they have drinks together.  They don't all speak the same languages, but they've all got the same problems - more or less.  So keep that in mind when you read the bit of world-building I try for here.  Let me know what you think in the comments!
            Residents of The Cliffs gathered along the enormous stone staircases and balconies, children flitting in and out of open apartment doors chasing each other with water pistols and handfuls of sand.  Each apartment was connected to the other through a complex web of tunnels that had been blasted into the stone.  Navigating them could take a lifetime, since very little technology was integrated into the city. 
            Laughter filled the air, one of the few times that the atmosphere was ever festive.  The Cliffs had been designed long ago as a welfare city for Atlantia, but the project had never been quite successful.  A din of music and various quartets vying for a simple coin or two to pay rent or worse mixed in with the general hustle and bustle.  Cars upon cars kept pulling up to the sandy sidewalks, dropping off families as the driver went off, looking for a half-decent spot to park, some of them yelling into cell phones, others yelling at the dog to stay in the car.
Branching off from the Speedway that ran throughout the country, a road led straight into a gorge bound by two cliff faces.  Etched into these monoliths were apartments and shops, an entire cityscape bustling with life.  The Cliffs, as the gorge was called, opened up onto a gorgeous harbor that was normally filled with small ships, rafts and surfers. 
            But today, the sandy shoreline was bursting with families rowdy teenagers who had come to see the Annual Water Exhibition held between Atlantia Upper School and its vicious rival Magna Boulevard Magnate.  The atmosphere was ferocious.  It was always warm in the Cliffs, as if the harbor was a trap for heat from the sun.  This seemed to elevate the tension that was already high between the rival teams, with even their mascots – a shark for Atlantia and a lion for Magna Boulevard – coming to blows.
Is the length too long?  I'm trying out this new thing where I end each blogpost with an excerpt.  Let me know in the comments!  Until Next Time Then!

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:05 AM

    Bravo! You write very eloquently, Reza. Your blogs are a lovely read.