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bear by san

March 2017



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bear by san

truepenny has another excellent post on the differing techniques of worldbuilding in SF and Fantasy here, which I disagree with utterly. Not because she's wrong--she's absolutely correct about just about everything she says--but because I personally don't worldbuild that way at all.

That probably begs a little clarification, doesn't it?

Specifically, I write science fiction and fantasy exactly the same way--through a sort of logical and creative extrapolation from a base set of assumptions. This set of assumptions can be the current world (as it is in Hammered and Blood and Iron) or something quite different (in the Eddas books, the worldbuilding is heavily extrapolated off of Norse myth, and in Carnival, it's extrapolated off... well, the intersection of several mutually contradictory sets of SFnal tropes.) but it's always the same process. Something twigs my attention, and somewhere in the back of my head a switch flips, and the worldbuilding starts. 

I think, by some sort of arcane technical definition, that makes me a fantasist rather than a science fiction or fantasy writer.

Whether it comes out fantasy or science fiction doesn't actually seem to affect the nature of the process, or the rules. It affects the foundations (in a fantasy, certain types of magic will work, for example, based on the milieu--in an Norse fantasy, it may be seithr or rune magic, and in a Celtic fantasy there is likely to be magic based on geasa and song--whereas in a science fiction story, the types of magic that work are already strictly delineated by a set of existing genre conventions--which is why alternate history is "science fiction," and second world fantasy is "fantasy." Because it kind of feels that way.) but then again, to me, science fiction is a type of fantasy. Specifically, it is a subset of fantastic literature that has its own rules and conventions (like, say, magic realism, or fairy-tales)

So to me, science fiction and fantasy are more or less marketing categories, but the structures behind them aren't that different. Just a few conventions of magic apart. It just depends on whether I take as my postulates the laws of physics, or the poetic Eddas.

I'm not sure science fiction is, entirely, about the relationship between man and technology any more. I dunno, actually, in general--I can't much make pronouncements about the State of the Genre. Because I think everybody working in it is up to their own thing, making a sort of glorious mess, exploring the aspects of genre that catch their eye. So you have people going after the pulp tradition, and others writing very rigorous SF that they believe to be extrapolative, and so on.

I can talk about my own work, of course, and that's generally speaking more about transformations and personal relationships and how people cope with an ever-changing society than it is about anything else. And I wonder if that's a generational thing in some ways, because people in my age group tend to be pretty integrated into the technological world. It's not so much a race to keep up and integrate as it is picking and choosing the things that are interesting and useful and cool. Technology's not going to save us, but there's also less a sense that it's The Big Threat about to overrun us, also.

It's a tool. Like a hammer. And like a hammer, it can be used to build a house, or bash in a skull.


off-topic-ish, but a quote you probably already have but I'm posting anyway (I am abstaining from coherant thought today, as it only leads to housework):

Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stare at the walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing.
-- Margaret Chittenden
Heh. SO true.
Do they ever give you advice and disapprove of things, or is it just me? Some of them are determined to make me a better person.

I'm just the secretary here.

At work, I type the professors' papers. At home, I take dictation from Dracaena and Ercole and Lavinia and Kyteler and Saunders and Delgardie.

I draw the line at letting them pick my boyfriends. Though Lucius Malfoy is never wrong about food :p
I have one character who goes on job interviews for me.
I wish I had one who could do that and do it well!

(I'm rather frightened by the prospect of any of the ones I'm currently writing on a job interview. Kyteler could get me a job, but not a job I could actually do, Lavinia has extensive experience in the sex industry, Dracaena thinks 'summon bees to sting my enemies' is an important part of her skillset--because it is, and Ercole acts rather too much like a wiseguy for anyone's comfort...)

On the other hand, this does sound like a potential use for Lucius' spurious logic skills.
:pauses to imagine Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan attending my job interviews:

Well, that sounds nice.

If I let any of my characters go to a job interview, I wouldn't be very successful, but I'd love to be cocky and brilliant. ;P
I think you're both right. And magick can be used in a way that is technological and machine-like (though usually not when occultists write). It certainly is in Rowling's Potterverse, and I think one of the things that annoys some people about my fic (aside from the blithely Slytherin PoV, cause I'd sort Slytherin in that universe and I know it) is that I have trouble writing about magick that way. I'm an occultist.
My writing process in this regard is a lot like yours, but my reading matches her definitions. I get bored fast with either fantasy or sf that is about characters' relations with machines, whether spells or spaceships. I want stories about characters; the setting is not the protagonist for me, as it might be in Idea SF (or in some quest fantasy), it's the setting. It has to make sense, maybe pique and surprise, but as soon as it shifts into the forefront and the story is about it, I find myself skimming. Perhaps that is a sign of a Penguin of Little Brain (I don't want to lay claim to being a Bear here) if so, fine.

(I do enjoy reading critical essays about idea sf, without ever wanting to read the stories themselves.)
You could be a spectacled bear....

And yeah, I agree with you totally about the issue of characters.
I completely concur. The problem with truepenny's analysis is that he or she assigns intrinsic value to the setting, which, honestly, has none. I've read fantasy novels where magic is just as much a resource and an externally manipulated force as technology is in hard SF, and SF where the technology's passed the Clarke barrier, pretty much, and is an internal resource. I've read novels where magic keeps man under its heel as much as they claim technology does. It all depends on the setting.

"All" worldbuilding is is setting up a place for the story to happen and beings to people it. This includes resources and mechanisms for those people to use to advance the story.

I guess I'm just more reductionist than Truepenny. ;)
Between you there's a good 'compare and contrast' lesson. Truepenny contrasts fantasy and science fiction where you go back to the commonalities between them. I tend to find more similarities (tech seems like magic to me), and still appreciate SF as having a different 'flavor' than most fantasy.

SF has this 'shared world' limitation where the writers rely on the same basic world-building (rooted in known science) as their starting place and work within those confines. Fantasy has more leeway for the writers to be inventive and interpretive.