May 12th, 2010


On World Building

If you aren't reading The World SF News Blog or its LJ feed at world_sf, then you're missing an interesting window into non-Western, or perhaps even more-so, non-American SF/F. Today there was a nice piece on World Building in a Hot Climate by Anil Menon.

Just a little over a week ago I was reading my PHYS-2070 science literacy papers and was reflecting on the world building of Frank Herbert's Dune. When we write SF, we often want to write about "the other". That might be other technology, other species, other philosophies -- and other worlds. Too often what we see in SF is generic Central Casting planets, with perfectly temperate shirt sleeve weather and homogenous populations. Yes Star Trek, I'm looking at you. (grin) At least Star Wars made an attempt to go from desert to jungle to ice planet. When I reviewed James Cameron's Avatar, I commented on the here-again / gone-again nature of the "hellish" conditions of Pandora:
If I had one complaint, it's that you tend to forget that Pandora is described as sort of a Hell -- and though every once in a while you see a shimmer of air as a human goes through an airlock into the world of Pandora, you don't always remember the oppressive heat. And even that isn't a huge complaint. Why? Because for the Na'vi it's home. They're comfortable in it. It's not like taking an Eskimo and throwing them into the Amazon rainforest for them. Just those puny fragile humans.

So what I end up with is both a complaint on consistency and the realization that for the Na'vi what we're describing is "normal". World building. But whose world?

In Menon's piece on world_sf, there is this startling admission: "What we often find in Indian SF is world-reusing, not world-building."

How many of us are guilty of that? To me, I think one of the problems of having mega-successful SF like Star Trek and Star Wars means that it is too easy to have a mental image from the movies as your stock footage in your mind. And even when you do come up with your own world building, you can either succumb to the shorthand of describing it to someone as "like Star Trek or Star Wars" or having someone accuse you of doing it that way. But not if you really embrace your world building and come up with something well defined and definitely "the other". (grin)

Anyway, check out the article, because I'm riffing on just one small aspect of the piece, and also world_sf. You know, you don't have to actually leave this planet or this time to find something which is truly of "the other".

Dr. Phil