We normally think of world building as in pages upon pages in notion detailing history, politics, and economics of a sci-fi world or having your own Wikipedia in World Anvil of this high-fantasy kingdom that rivals Tolkien’s.
However when we get into the meat of the story, world building isn’t quite as straightforward. Sure, in novels, you can have a beautiful map before the first chapter or use the prologue to narrate a creation-myth and the power dynamics of the land but, in short stories, “you just need to drop the readers straight into the established world, without needing to explain everything about it,” (Samantha Todd).
Which sounds scary, not going to lie, because how can we make sure the reader doesn’t get lost between all this lore? Well, the simple answer is that you curate your world around the protagonist and the story you’re telling.
First published in 2016, Charlie Jane Anders’ debut novel All the Birds in the Sky presents a perfect marriage of science fiction and fantasy. The book follows two main characters, Patricia and Laurence (not Larry). Both characters embody one of the two genres. Patricia encapsulates fantasy, discovering her magical abilities at a young age through a conversation with a bird. Laurence, a scientific prodigy, represents science fiction, inventing a time machine that allows the user to jump forward in time two seconds.
The depiction of fantasy and science fiction makes for a captivating read. But another fascinating aspect of the novel is the presentation of gender. As a trans woman, Charlie Jane Anders brings a unique perspective to how gender is depicted, providing equal attention and honest descriptions. She then uses this presentation of gender to combat our traditional views of binaries, encouraging us to look beyond the usual presentation.
The author’s perspective comes through early on in the novel. The book begins with Patricia and Laurence as middle school outcasts, just learning about their special skills and still navigating their complicated lives. Anders transitioned from male to female, and subtle influences can be found throughout this section of the book. Patricia and her sister, Roberta, both have names derived from traditional masculine names – Patrick and Robert. Their parents originally picked only “boy” names, but switched them to the feminine version.
Magic lies at the core of many fantasy stories, whether it drives the plot forward or merely builds the world surrounding the characters. Either way, there’s typically some method to the madness of magic. The mages of the story might be born with great powers, or spend decades perfecting their arcane crafts – regardless, there’s an underlying power system defining the rules of magic.
Creating and balancing your own magic power system can be tricky at times. Here’s a few things to keep in mind when making magic a reality in your story.
Steampunk is the hybrid genre, the aesthetic you did not know you needed. It is what happens when you mash historical society with technology that could have been if humanity had gone in a slightly different direction. Steampunk writing is composed of three elements: research, imagination, and more research.
To write a good historical steampunk society, you need a point of diversion, which is the event that started the cascade towards steampunk technology rather than the technology we use today. What changed? Was something developed with steam technology that eliminated the need for our current technology? Did a discovery or invention that occurs in the real world never happen? This is integral to world-building, even if it is not featured heavily in your book. Having a solid point of divergence is also an indicator that you have been doing sufficient research.
Warning: Minor spoilers for season one
It’s the year 2046, and Judy, the Robinson’s eldest daughter, is trapped inside a capsule, in the depths of a rapidly-freezing ocean… on a planet that is billions of light-years away from Earth.
Lost In Space follows the story of the Robinsons, a family of five who think they will find a better life in Alpha Centauri, and so join the journey of a group of colonists in the Resolute ship. But evidently, things go sideways (and with “things” I mean an alien robot attack), and they must evacuate. They crash land on an unidentified planet, where they will face the threats of an unknown environment and try to contact the Resolute, knowing fully well that they have their seconds counted.
Not to mention, the youngest member, Will, befriends an alien robot.
In a world where superhero movies and TV shows crop up every couple of months, there’s no denying the presence and prowess of the science fiction genre. It’s evolved over the centuries, generating dozens of subgenres and shifting to match each era’s social climate. Readers and writers alike flock to science fiction for intrigue, wonderment, and entertainment, and often leave with some nuanced social commentary for good measure.
Taking a look back at how the genre came to be can help us understand what defines the genre, and where it could end up. Here’s some literature that provided significant contributions to science fiction, in chronological order.
From adrenaline-packed battles to long-lost prophecies, speculative fiction has a way to take the reader and keep them invested in a story. It is also the main genre I have been reading the past couple of years, and the one my WIPs tend to gravitate towards. So, without further ado, here are ten things that make this genre so appealing to thousands of readers around the world.
By Elena Juarez
A new dawn. A new dusk. A new season. A new man. A Change of Seasons written by Khurram Elahi is a good example of a character driven novel where one man’s descent into absolute insanity is the main focus. John Winters, a seemingly ordinary man, undergoes a multitude of life-altering events that bring forth a chilling dive into madness.
Harry Potter. Percy Jackson. Books like these are beloved by many as a result of their role of making children and teenagers feel validated and seen, especially with the added context of finding familiarity in another world. This form of escapism has been a vital tool for them to get through trivial aspects in their lives, like the prospect of growing up, for example.
Some may argue that fictional institutions like Hogwarts and Camp Half-Blood romanticize growing up in the strict education systems we live in, however what matters is the purpose and intentions behind this work - as this is what fuels it to be what it is today. An example of this is Rick Riordan’s Camp Half-Blood. CHB is a thriving environment for demi-gods to train and reside in, a safe place free from the monsters that plague the world outside the Long Island Sound, and one of the main settings we see throughout the series. Within the song ‘The Last Day of Summer’ in The Lightning Thief Musical, a particular line in Luke’s verse is as follows: “Chiron always says our parents made camp as this safe magic space, the truth is they don’t have to see us, they won’t bother to show their face”.
I get a headache when I think about my world’s magic system too hard, which is why… I just try not to think about it at all. Cue hundreds of inconsistencies and instances where I have no clue what the heck is going on.
At least for me, magic systems are hard. I hate working within the rules of hard magic systems, and I never know when I’m taking things too far with soft magic.
Some research led me to a few in-betweens, systems that blended hard and soft magic, and I am so excited to touch upon those, but first, we need to define hard and soft magic. I’ll also be going over the rules of magic systems and the rational-irrational axis using Sanderson’s Laws of Magic.