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Happy New Year, dearest friends, readers. Happy Befana to the Italians; Women's Christmas to the Irish; actual Christmas to the Orthodox -- tomorrow that is.

I have a present for you all, oh yes I do!

Have you ever been *in* a book? Absorbed to the point where you will savage parters, pets and children should they dare to interrupt? Of course you have! And there you are, immersed in an experience, perfect in all but one respect: you want... no! You *need* a label to pin on the source of your happiness.

Well, worry no more. I present to you for the first time, Peadar's Patented Spotters Guide to Worldbuilding.

With no further ado, here are the world types you will come up against today, tomorrow, and in the rest of 2014.


Imagine the writer who wants to tell the tale of a farm boy destined for kingship. All the originality of their endeavour has gone into the plot and the characters. Obviously. And the rest, as George R. R. Martin might say, is just furniture, so there's no need to go messing around with that too much.

Scour the history books and borrow, borrow, borrow! Pillage Medieval Europe. Expropriate the greatest cultural achievements of Japan or China or Arabia or classical Rome. File off the serial numbers, change a few names. Mix and match. If you need to appear super original, choose those settings that have only been done 50, as opposed to 5 million times before.

Now, off to the bank with you to cash those monstrous and inevitable cheques!


This one is for those authors who can't even be bothered to file off the serial numbers. Basically, just take our world as it is and adapt it slightly, or interpret what's already there. Most Urban Fantasy worlds follow this model. Magic is real, but we muggles just don't see it; the Second World War occurred because one family of vampires was feeding on Winston Churchill, while a less sexy group had chosen Hitler; aliens are running all governments -- the evidence is right before our eyes, but we refuse to see it.

Alternate histories could be looked on as a type of adaptation, or, may actually belong in our next category... Extrapolated Worlds.


Take our modern world, just as it is. Phew! That was easy.

But not so fast... Now, imagine that somebody discovers a way for humans to digest rocks. How will this affect our world going forward? What industries will die off? How many will bleed in the Burren as people fight over the tastiest stones?

Extrapolated Worlds are a (yummy) cornerstone of much of modern SF.


Although I have personally created settings using all of the methods above -- and will do do again! -- it is Generated Worlds that provide me with the most satisfaction.

Here's what you do: pick an absurdity and try to make it real.

For example, let's pretend that you're a big fan of dragons: giant toothy, firebreathing, flying, intelligent monsters. You want to put them into a story. How do you go about it? Well, you could always borrow old China or Medieval Europe. They had dragons. You can have maidens and knights; you can have lairs full of gold... But a builder of Generated Worlds needs to take a different approach.

If it were me, the people of Dragon World(TM) wouldn't have big showy castles or flammable cities. They would be experts in camouflage and would speak always in sign language. They have never discovered the wheel, but know everything there is to know about ratchets and gigantic ballistae. Their seamstresses sneer at cotton but can whip you up an asbestos suit in five minutes. They do not value gold or virginity -- in fact, the mere possession of either is grounds for execution.

In spite of all that, they are extinct.

Other Schools

What have I missed? What is your personal favourite? What did you get me for Christmas?


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 6th, 2014 04:30 pm (UTC)
If it were me, the people of Dragon World(TM) wouldn't have big showy castles or flammable cities.

Nor would they have dazzling white teeth.

BTW, I didn't exactly get you something for Christmas,
but I did think of you on Christams day. I was watching the 1999 version of A Christmas Carol
and noticed that everyone in it, except the Spirits, had authentic dingy gray teeth.

But seriously, you're on to something.
Unless the dragons have recently arrived on the scene,
they'd have destroyed those castles and cities long ago.
It might help to think of Germany and Japan,
and how few showy castles and flammable cities they had remaining by the summer of 1945.
Jan. 6th, 2014 05:40 pm (UTC)
It might help to think of Germany and Japan,
and how few showy castles and flammable cities they had remaining by the summer of 1945.

We have finally reached a level of technology where we build our own dragons and worse :)
Jan. 6th, 2014 11:57 pm (UTC)
I am suspecting a tad dash of cynicism, herein. Not that I am disagreeing, mind.
About the only thing that I am good at is coming up with names for people, places, and things. Plots? No skill at all. Don't even get me started on anything else. Epic fail.
Jan. 7th, 2014 01:06 pm (UTC)
I never worry about the names, which is a problem in itself!
Jan. 7th, 2014 12:16 am (UTC)
I bought you a dragon that knows sign language and can paint daisies with his talons.
Jan. 7th, 2014 01:07 pm (UTC)
Sounds... peaceful?
Jan. 7th, 2014 03:55 pm (UTC)
He also takes his tea with cream and sugar, and prefers tasty shortbread to chocolate, if you please.
Jan. 7th, 2014 03:57 pm (UTC)
I will buy in a few barrels of sugar at once! Wouldn't want to make him angry!
Jan. 7th, 2014 02:55 pm (UTC)
My favorite: transcribing bad dreams and/or bad acid. Gormenghast comes to mind...
Jan. 7th, 2014 03:13 pm (UTC)
I was too prudish to include that one. I publish all those under another name ;)
Jan. 7th, 2014 03:35 pm (UTC)
Oh, I only do that when the monsters turn out to have sexual connotations...
Jan. 7th, 2014 03:36 pm (UTC)
They *all* do.
Jan. 7th, 2014 03:48 pm (UTC)
Yes, they do. Plus, I also lied. I am willing to publish anything under my real name.
Jan. 14th, 2014 03:49 am (UTC)
I have been waiting and waiting for the obligatory thank you note from you acknowledging the extravagant gift I sent you. Well, I suppose you have been busy writing... Other things...

On other, less distressing topics, I seldom come across worldbuilding that I find original. But then I saw Ender's Game* and was reminded how much I had liked the book, which I then went back and reread, which then led to reading all (yes ALL) of the sequels. And I found the world of Lusitania to be a fascinating concept. An entire planet with only a handful of species inhabiting it. Absolutely zero adaptive evolution. How boring, right? Except... Why would such a place exist?

I am interested to know which examples of worldbuilding you found original or thought provoking.

* Yes, I heard about the (stupid) boycott of Orson Scott Card. No, I don't agree with his personal social and political views. But given the number of times I have told people who disagree with GRRM's politics to just get over themselves and give the books a chance... Well, I can take my own advice.
Jan. 14th, 2014 09:24 am (UTC)
I have sent a thank you note for your most extravagant gift. Indeed, I have been awaiting acknowledgement... ;)

As for examples of good worldbuilding, there are plenty to be found for each school. I may well do a blog post one of these days... But, so as not to waste your time, I'll list some below, with the caveat that good worldbuilding does not always mean a good or wholesome book overall!

For Borrowed Worlds, I nominate Scott Bakker, whose horrific miserable Earwa is not only thorough and gnarly*, but has one stunning philosophical twist that sets it head and shoulders above anything else in that school. If you're wondering what the twist is, it's to do with the certain proof of damnation. Also, brilliant, is his chortling riff off Tolkien.

For Adapted Worlds, I have to give the nod to China Miéville's The City and The City -- although the original concept, to my mind, belongs to Jack Vance.

For Extrapolated Worlds, there are a huge number of fine examples in SF. Peter Watts is particularly, but not uniquely, talented here.

For Generated Worlds you could check out any Brandon Sanderson book. He seems to specialise in these. His recent Way of Kings is a fine example. For an SF example, Kameron Hurley's recent books have some great worldbuilding IMHO.

Now, I'm not saying any of these are favourite authors of mine (although some of them are), but their worldbuilding is interesting.
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )