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Tag: world building

World Building Fail

I’m not a fan of Harry Potter but I couldn’t help but notice the recent controversy over it. In a nutshell, I’ve seen two responses to it: 1) Rowling is writing fiction and she can write whatever she wants so PC people should just shut up or 2) huge disappointment that she has appropriated other people’s culture and she should have done research and consulted people from that culture to get things right. N. K. Jemisin’s thoughts on the whole thing  probably most closely mirror my own.

Writers, as artists, are free to do their art as they wish. But if they’re presenting their art for public consumption, they have to be prepared for the fact that there’s going to be a lot of different reactions–both good and bad–to their art. As consumers of art, we have to be prepared for the fact that the artist will not kowtow to all of our criticisms. Art is subjective. It’s qualitatively different than selling widgets.

But that said, art can be considered “bad” if it fails at its originally intended purpose.  And in this case, I get the impression that Rowling has failed at world building for some of her readers. The thing is, her “History of Magic in North America” is all about world building. And if effective world building isn’t present in that piece of fiction, then what is the point of it? In the Harry Potter universe, the premise is basically the answer to the question of “What would our world be like if there was magic in it?” By appropriating Native American culture and basically lumping all Native American cultures into some monolithic stereotype, Rowling has failed to answer that question. This isn’t an isolated incident, either. I’ve seen fans grumble about her shallow treatment of African, Asian, and South American magic. Some posit that this shallowness is a signature of her work, that even from her original seven books, she poorly accounts for the diversity in the UK and Europe.

I have only read book one and the posts on the Pottermore website so I cannot comment on the diversity of the characters or their potential portrayal as stereotypical cardboard cutouts. But from what I have read, I don’t particularly find the world building all that compelling. World building, as they say, is supposed to be like an iceberg. You show 10%, but you should also leave the impression that the 90% beneath the surface actually exists in a gigantic pile of notes somewhere. Rowling’s world building seems less an iceberg and more like an ice cream float that’s been sitting out in the sun too long. It’s as if Rowling threw in a bunch of tropes after watching a few movies and reading Wikipedia.

Of course, one could argue that there are plenty of other authors who have terrible world building yet no one’s picking on them with this much fervor. But what makes Rowling’s case different is that there are so many people around the world invested in her fictional world. If you’re going to give the impression that you’re trying to be inclusive to all of your readers, you can’t just turn around and do the opposite. And if you’re claiming artistic license, well, you have to be prepared for the fallout.

To be honest, I think Rowling set herself up for failure by attempting to describe magic in all the world’s cultures. Even if she is a diligent researcher, there would be no way for her to be familiar with everything. Writers who are better world builders know trying to tackle just one culture (even your own) is a difficult task. Heck, I’ve lived in North America my whole life and moved around a lot, but I would never presume to know every single culture and subculture that exists here. So if you want to do world building well, concentrate on that one thing first. Otherwise, go find help.

MisCon 28: World Deconstruction 101

(To see all my posts on MisCon, go here.)

In the panel transcriptions, I’m mostly paraphrasing what the panelists said. If there are any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. For any corrections, just drop me a note.

Panel title: World Deconstruction 101
Panel members: Steven Erikson, Rhiannon Held, Ken Scholes
Panel description: You’ve learned all about world building, but what can archaeology and anthropology teach us about deconstructing your world? Should yours be an epic apocalypse or a slow, painful descent into the history books?

RH: Have you ever destroyed worlds in your writing?

SE: In the classics, it takes a long time for things to happen. But civilizations rise and fall. I’m not a fan of civilizations being frozen in development. My stories are about falling civilizations. They always leave scarring on the landscape. Landscapes are malleable. There’s a lot under the feet of the character.

KS: My whole series is post-apocalyptic. Three major cataclysms happen and there are few places that are liveable. My short fiction also has a lot of it. In one story, I wondered what Santa would deliver in a post-apocalyptic world. Bureaucracy may still try to hold on. What if in a magical apocalypse, there was a god that worked like the Old Testament? Or maybe it’s us destroying the world.

RH: I enjoy using far past cultures as a foundation. The imperfect knowledge of the past is intriguing. What is passed down may be from songs, stories and fables. I did that with my werewolf species. What they knew about their origins came from their oral tradition. I’m intrigued about it because I deal with it every day. So what do you think about world deconstruction gone wrong? It bothers me that when a population falls, no one considers that there will actually be more resources available. After the Black Death, the quality of life was actually better. In fiction today, we see people scrabbling for resources even though the resources of seven billion people are still lying around. There’s also the problem of dating a site. A dish might have a pattern dating back to 1915, but it’s still modern if people are still using it. Plastic lasts for thousands of years. It can still be reused. In a post-apocalyptic world, goods can still be reused and repurposed.

SE: I sense that a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction is wish fulfillment. You get to shoot everyone and wipe out everything like the Old Testament. Environmentalists wish to return to a hunter-gatherer society. But how can you imagine eight billion people as hunter-gatherers? It’s not sustainable. You have to bring the number of people down with disease or something else. If the infrastructure and technology collapsed, you’ll have starving people. Then they’ll eat everything. In the jungles of Congo, society collapsed and everything was eaten. I don’t think most people think things all the way through.

RH: People don’t consider the knowledge left behind. Everything is written and digitized, but if we lose electricity and the older people die, we lose the knowledge. In one book I read, the characters think, “Oh, we’ll just grow this mold to cure the disease!” You can’t just do that. Where did they get the knowledge? Who survived and what knowledge was passed down?

KS: What’s your preparation for the post-apocalypse?

RH: My family has various skills and we own land on an island.

SE: Uh oh. We live on an island. It’s overdue to fall in the ocean.

RH: But it’s a good barrier to disease. In that situation, you should gain allies as soon as possible to bring skills together.

SE: I think it’s a crapshoot. I’ll think about it when it happens. Maybe it’s cultural. Americans thought this all up.

KS: My military friend has land that’s high ground and defensible. I have a friend who’s an OB-GYN. I have other friends who are nurses, hunters, etc. We’ve got a team. And with my skills, I’m going to raid a music store and become a bard. We’re going to stockpile.

SE: But once you do that, you’ve painted a large target on your back.

KS: Then we’ll get a militia.

Q: My brother would start a cult. He wants to be the head of it. Is hierarchy easier to maintain?

KS: I used to be a preacher, but there is also precedent of a science fiction author creating a religion.

RH: It depends on how many people are with you. With fewer people, it’s more flexible but you run into trouble if you need manpower to build something. With more people, you need infrastructure.

SE: There’s a survival threshold. If there are fewer people to start with, it’s important if someone dies.

Q: In fiction, they think that the military will suddenly disappear. But in real life, there’s a lot of people with military training.

KS: I have a friend who knows many military contacts.

Q: I know a mortician. Morticians have a contingency plan for getting rid of bodies if something catastrophic happens. You can see manuals for this online.

KS: You can also find documents online on what the military will do in case of an apocalypse.

RH: Homo sapiens as a species will survive an apocalypse, but it will only be a fraction of the population. But in fiction, it’s about the relationships.

SE: We wouldn’t be able to survive because we don’t have the knowledge base. But indigenous people will be able to survive.

RH: Ways of getting food will depend on the number of people. If someone has knowledge of farming, it can bring the population up. But if those people die, the lower population will be hunter-gatherers.

SE: A pristine environment depends on location. Prehistoric groups are small. There’s not much up in northern Canada.

Q: There are things that might get misunderstood in the future. Maybe in a thousand years, they might think hoodies were for building tents. How do you interpret the past?

RH: What would archaeologists see from our burial practices? It’s nice because we put dates on our tombstones. But what about the bones? Things rust and rot. Is plastic still there? What would that say about the person?

Q: There would still be pacemakers and cell phones.

RH: They’ll have a sense of our medical technology because they’ll see regrown bones, pins, and fillings. But why would there be drilled teeth?

KS: Obviously, it’s the tooth fairy cult.

Q: In Celtic mythology, there are fairies but there’s also mythologies about war.

SE: You can blend mythologies.

RH: If we have any written materials left, it would be on paper. But that decomposes. They won’t know English. What’s left is what’s carved on monuments like statues.

Q: What about people who are medication dependent, on birth control, etc.?

RH: That’s underrepresented on post-apocalyptic fiction especially since it’s wish fulfillment. The ancient Egyptians used a plant for birth control but they used it too much that it became extinct.

KS: There’s also expiration dates. There will be raids for materials. People will be too busy trying to stay alive to worry about other things.

Q: I heard that if everyone’s still alive after an apocalypse, the canned food would only last for two weeks.

RH: It’s resource stress. There’s not enough for everyone. Then there will be resource wars where they will kill others to take it. In a dystopia with wars, this makes sense. Killing and taking is easier than hunting.

Q: Is that why Central America declined?

SE: It was a fairly rapid fall, but there were ups and downs.

Q: Do you believe in stockpiling? My grandparents are still using stuff they stockpiled for Y2K.

KS: I like to play in the imagination. It’s wish fulfillment, a place to play. It hones down people. There’s a potential for rebirth or to go gently into the night. I write with underpants on my head. I dig into the wasteland of my childhood. In telling these stories, I process the things that happened to me in childhood.

Q: What about repeating history?

SE: It’s our nature. We have short term memories.

RH: When you’re dying, you don’t think ten years ahead.

Q: A lot of apocalyptic fiction seems to be from America. And it has lots of guns. Is it an American fantasy?

KS: I would want every possible tool to stay alive, not just certain tools. Think broadly.

SE: This country has sustained the myth of the frontier. Maybe it’s a return to the frontier. And it ties into notions of liberty.

MisCon 28: Developing Cultures for Storytellers

(To see all my posts on MisCon, go here.)

In the panel transcriptions, I’m mostly paraphrasing what the panelists said. If there are any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. For any corrections, just drop me a note.

Panel title: Developing Cultures for Storytellers
Panel members: Steven Erikson, John Goff, Ken Scholes
Panel description: In this panel we’ll learn how to develop unique cultures, economies, art, history, culture, music, language, expletives, etc. to fill your stories with juicy, realistic details. We’ll discuss how culture influences your characters, your world, and its history. Come learn from anthropologists, archaeologists, and writers.

KS: There’s rhythm for believable histories. In my five book series, there’s culture and conflict. In the beginning, the protagonists don’t know there’s another culture. That’s a mystery. All stories have their own world. Even in short fiction, you can’t suspend disbelief if you don’t have a culture.

SE: I recommend that beginning writers find an introductory anthropology textbook. Conflict comes from the clash of cultures. Geography dictates culture and history. Between my ninth and tenth books, I went to Mongolia with a group of Russian anthropologists. I observed the differences in culture between Beijing and Ulaanbaatar. Mongolians are bigger than the people in China. In order to understand why Europeans called them the scourge, you have to know that their diet of dairy and protein made them a bigger people. Understand what effects shape culture. Once we had farming, there was a consequence for not hunting food anymore. People started hunting each other–which became warfare.

KS: Is there any anthropological theory you like?

SE: I like the Neo-Marxist model, without the communism stuff. The hunter gatherers became sedentary and developed pastoral agriculture. Civilization expanded and specialized and increased in complexity. And with the industrial age, it all did damage.

Q: Was Mongolians versus Chinese like Romans versus the Gauls?

SE: Not really. The Romans collectively imposed their rule, but the Gauls (and the Celts) fought as individuals instead.

JG: I work for a licensed property so I build on what was already created. I work on Deadlands which is an alternative history of the American West. In this world, the Civil War grinds to a halt without a resolution and we discover that magic can only be used by certain cultures. This can play up the conflict.

Q: How do you view technology changing culture?

SE: It basically improves methods for people to destroy each other. When I was in Winnipeg, I saw some Lakota and Sioux artifacts and some what if questions became a story idea. What if the Sioux had the power to defeat the U.S. army? They would have still been devoured by the dominant culture.

JG: In the game I’m working on, there is a northern tribe that shuns technology and a southern tribe that embraces technology. In the end, it is the southern tribe that loses its culture. If you can visit a place in real life, you should go.

KS: Experience the world if you can. Stories are everywhere. Go places and experience the people. I went to France for my French publisher and I made friends with just my guitar. I let people tell me their story.

Q: I’m trying to figure out what western ideology that may be inadvertently ingrained in my world building.

SE: Ask yourself what rules you used to create the world. What if magic worked? Then decide if the magic is gender based or learned. Removing sexist language is hard, but consider how you created the world.

KS: I used to be a fundamentalist Baptist minister, but it was a slow path to what I am now as a secular humanist. Old preachers are a culture in themselves.

SE: Cultures are not monolithic. There are cultures within cultures.

JG: I also run into that in gaming. Try to be respectful. Call out the differences so players can build on it.

KS: How do you handle cultural appropriation?

SE: I grew up in Winnipeg which had the largest population of Native Americans in Canada, so I must include them. It would be a disservice to excise them. There are people in our country who live entirely different lives. Stealing myths and transforming them is not good.

Q: What’s your opinion on appropriation of myth?

KS: There’s a lot of stuff I had to unlearn with privilege, etc. So I still have to find my own way. Be respectful, don’t exploit.

JG: As long as you are respectful, then it’s fair game. There are a number of Japanese films that are westerns transposed to Japan. Then Italians transposed those films back into America, becoming the spaghetti western. As we grow closer together in the world, there’s a lot of cross-pollination.

SE: Karagawa does Shakespeare in Japanese.

JG: I don’t like The Last Samurai and Dances with Wolves where the culture is only accepted if there’s a white dude in it. It’s not respectful. Marketing underestimates the audience.

SE: I recommend 1491 and 1493 for books on culture.

KS: When I had been a pastor, I saw Dances with Wolves and at the time I thought it was the tribe who redeemed him.

SE: When a white man went native, he got a bounty on his head because he was getting a better life. We carry many biases. What would you think if we replaced fifth century Greeks with the Congolese?

KS: I became pro-choice because of Cider House Rules and pro-gay because of Brokeback Mountain. There’s a fine line between outraged enough and not outraged enough.

Q: Save the Pearls is a novel about white people (pearls) subjected to black people (coals). What do you think of inverting race?

SE: Kim Stanley Robinson wrote a book where disease wiped out the European population so the Europeans became slaves.

KS: In The Forever War the protagonist had to adjust when the culture became more gay than straight. It shook me up and made me think.

JG: A friend’s daughter attended a class where they did an exercise like that in order to teach how some people are still treated like second class citizens, but it backfired and made it worse.

Q: If you’re inverting the culture, be careful it’s not too heavy handed. Otherwise it would be more like a photo negative. Look at the point of view of that culture.

JG: Be aware of your biases.

SE: It’s an enormous can of worms with cultural relativism. There are many apologists for horrible things. You have to determine why they’re doing it. If a culture is on the edge of subsistence, they are more conservative. They want to keep the status quo or they’ll starve.

KS: Write with empathy.

Notes from MisCon 27, Part 7

(To see all my posts on MisCon, including last year’s notes, go here.)

In the panel transcriptions, I’m mostly paraphrasing what the panelists said. If there are any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. For any corrections, just drop me a note.

Panel title: The Role of Religion in Science Fiction/Fantasy
Panel members: David Boop, Deby Fredericks, Joyce Reynolds-Ward, Peter Wacks
Panel description: This Sunday morning we’ll talk about religion’s role in scifi/fantasy. Is it necessary? Can you write a society and not have religion? How do you make a religion? What do you research? Where do you begin? Join us to learn the ins and outs of religion in genre writing.

PW: I leave out rants about religion from social media, etc. But it does bleed into my writing. How does it bleed into writing?

DF: Religion is often used as an antagonist in SFF. In real life there are skeptics and deniers of climate change who base their beliefs on religion. These get slapped down, but we should also be respectful. Shoot at people’s beliefs advisedly.

PW: Or be offensive about everything like South Park.

JRW: Consistency matters. Conservatives and Protestants are not the same as Catholics, Lutherans, etc. American bishops aren’t the same as the Vatican. Some of us are wired for religion. Some do religion and sci-fi well, like Russell’s The Sparrow. Orson Scott Card incorporates religion into what he writes. The biggest issue is that many write from an outsider’s perspective and don’t get into the internal battles and dialog. Poorly written, it’s just ritual and evil clergy.

DB: It’s not necessarily what the media says but what they portray. The stories should deal with redemption, crisis of faith, and facing one’s fears. The cliche evil religion is too obvious.

DF: That’s why people use churches and cults. These organizations have resources like the government. They have many members and bases to provide a continual source of conflict. While a small group of bandits can be wiped out in one go.

DB: It’s descended from the Cold War generation, where everyone suspected everyone else. You can compare the country to a religion. But there are shades and different levels. Example: Game of Thrones.

JRW: Religion fuels the believers. There are explicit rituals for particular purposes. For the fanatics, it’s the rationale of true believers. An example is Frank Herbert’s Dune.

DF: Members of a criminal gang will likely yield at the end. But religious followers are less likely to surrender. These are different kinds of fight.

PW: I started from a hopeful place. That faith in itself could change worlds and universes. People get caught up in the bad side of the coin. Is there a good side?

JRW: The best stuff doesn’t proselytize. It presents how it affects the character.

PW: How do you write without religion?

DF: Anne McCaffrey didn’t plan for religion on Pern. Is this realistic? We look for patterns in everything. We want to control unknown events.

PW: Lack of faith is a religion.

DB: In society, we can’t escape religion. At some point, someone wants power. The quickest way to get it is to say that you are ordained by God. And there are people with delusions of grandeur.

JRW: It taps into an emotional resonance in the brain. I believe some people are hardwired for faith.

DB: As an author, you can research and explore other worlds and religions to at least understand some of their motivations.

PW: How much of your writing is taking the world in and preaching it out? Do morals come out of the book or just a character on a soapbox?

DF: We all write our own belief. But we must also be aware of the audience. They don’t want religion and don’t want to deal with that. So you give them what they want. Religion can be part of world building. Use religion as set dressing rather than preaching.

JRW: Everything we write reflects our own morals and ethics but we have to be careful promoting one thing. The audience isn’t friendly towards preaching. Be nuanced.

DB: I make sure the voice in the story is the character and not me. I’m careful that what the character preaches is not necessarily what I would preach. Transcend your own belief. Otherwise it’s the same character all the time. Every character is different. Make it clear that it’s fiction.

JRW: Sometimes I’m seduced by a character. One of my recent characters is a woman who becomes a goddess but is unlikeable in some ways.

Q: For most people, religion gives them answers they don’t have to understand. Is this valuable in real life?

DB: Lewis Black said that religion is used to keep people in line. Some people just want to be told what to do.

PW: It’s useful in defining societies in SFF. For instance, in a generation ship, they may need faith and trust. It defines societal ethics.

JRW: It’s used as a support structure, social structure.

DF: It helps in sharing resources in a disaster.

PW: In Good Omens, they shared cookies. It’s a standard.

Q: How do you develop your own religion? How hard is it dealing with all the different facets?

DB: I took a look at the current progression of religion and tried to see what would happen in the future. I decided that everyone agrees that there’s a god and removed the dogma.

JRW: In my fantasy story, I have seven gods that did battle. They’re modeled on Greek mythology.

Q: With faith and religion, is faith in a person or is it in a religion?

PW: It’s only when many people have the same faith that you get a religion.

DF: And they have it at the same intensity.

JRW: Religion has ritual, structure, and protocols.

PW: Religion needs a divinity. Although now we say that media/capitalism is a religion.

DF: Capitalism is about commerce, not personalities. Religion needs a personality. Although now, corporations are trying to be seen as individuals.

PW: There are personalities that represent commercial media, so it’s getting dangerously close to becoming a religion.

Q: How easy is it to write a galaxy-spanning self destructive cult or religion?

PW: It depends on the quality of writing.

DB: Write about it if it is needed for the character to change. If the character changes too easily without a challenge, it’s not interesting. If the cult/religion is just use as flavoring, it doesn’t add to the story so it should be cut.

JRW: You can’t write a galaxy-spanning cult because it will splinter and there’s the problem of communication.

DB: An example of a galaxy-spanning cult is in the trilogy The Damned by Alan Dean Foster.

DF: As writers, we need to grab a common trope to get rolling. When revising, we need to flesh things out. Use something that is unique. Even if you use a cult, find something about it that makes it unique and a surprise.

A Writer-centric View of SpoCon 2012, Part 4

In the panel transcriptions, I’m mostly paraphrasing what the panelists said. If there are any errors, they’re mine and mine alone. For any corrections, just drop me a note.

Previous posts: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3


(Left to right: Maggie Bonham, S.A. Bolich, Rosemary Jones, C.J. Cherryh)

The “World Building II: People & Cultures” panel was attended by Rosemary Jones, C.J. Cherryh, S.A. Bolich, and Maggie Bonham. (AQ is an audience question.)

Moderator: What are the most important things about creating a race of people?

CJC: I start with a pen or pencil sketch. Once I was amused when I was accused ripping off Avatar. But they should have checked the dates [because mine was earlier]. You should make things harmonious. Chicken eggs are shaped the way they are because they have to come out of chickens. There are limits in what you can accommodate. Assume that it’s a compact form and that it folds nicely or you will have problems. Or design it differently. It could be biologically compatible with humans or have a different ecology. I had a race of methane breathers who were not compatible. Start with pen and paper but have “wickets” that they need to pass through to be logical.

RJ: I like using Chinese folklore. I look mostly at culture rather than races. If you live in a large city, someone needs to take the garbage out. I write about NPC characters. The support systems can be fascinating. If you have a magical graveyard, someone needs to build it, maintain it, and rebuild it. A lot of it comes out of our culture and other people’s cultures. Read about how people manage it before rather than now. They’re without electricity, but they use solar power in Uganda to power cell phones – a lot of the world isn’t hardwired. Other parts of the world skipped steps that we went through. So when building subcultures, think about those moments. What if we turned left than right? What if we do things we don’t do any more? Steampunk asks these sorts of questions – what if dirigibles really worked?

SAB: Culture arises from the environment around you. The sea is different from a mountain. Culture is driven by day-to-day interaction with the land. There are certain adaptations with animals and people. What does it do to drive culture? Is it outside or inside the mainstream? That will affect how they interact with everyone else around them. Is magic accepted or not? How will they survive? How does food, houses, clothes, and people look like? Europeans don’t look like Africans and there’s a reason for that. So look at the environment for how they live and their technology level. Build the world around the environment and how people react to it. For river dwelling people: how do they get things? How do they build things? And what do they trade to get it? Many things go into the culture to get it to thrive. Now, very few people know how to make everything themselves, so who else is needed for it?

MB: I agree. Read Guns, Germs and Steel to see how environment shapes humanity. Anyone interested in world building should read it. I also read esoteric stuff like An Edible History of Humanity which is about what kind of food people ate. There are also ancient recipes, information on how people ate, Craigslist, and newspapers. There was an article in The Guardian where one of the first recipes was eating hedgehogs. [Note: The article was actually in The Daily Mail.] I consider survival important, so understand where the food comes from. You can’t have a few farms to support a huge city. Or a fortress with many armies. Because how are you going to feed them? You need crops, people who work it, water, and transport. Empires can’t make and do everything. Even closed empires like ancient Japan still needed some trading. When creating a society, have a scene and concept and build the world around it. Then ask questions: how is it done? I wrote a scene where a character died and another character is burying her. You can’t just leave bodies on battlefield because of disease. So who gets conscripted to burying people? It’s detail that you don’t think about unless you’re a writer. Don’t necessarily put all the details in, but you as a writer needs to know. You need to have a money system and the knowledge needs to come across pages.

RJ: In science fiction and fantasy we generally talk about huge moments, but there’s also the mundane. They recently dug up notes near Hadrian’s wall and we got a feel of the correspondence that said something like…

CJC: Mom, send socks.

RJ: It gets chilly up there and he wants socks. These are the moments you can put in fantasy. Who’s going to send socks to your soldiers? Are there even socks? The lovely thing about the human race is that we come up with so much weird stuff. Like the funeral stuff in King Tut’s tomb, there’s a whole industry to bury dead people. Ancient Egypt was not a subsistence level society. They had money to spend on stuff and bury dead. The Romans are a good example. Society is stable and they go to Pompeii for vacation. You can find souvenir Pompeii perfume bottles. You can find Roman cups in a shipwreck and at the bottom is scratched “This is Joe’s cup”.

CJC: Sometimes you can get some crazy stuff. In Turkey, in Asia Minor, I went to a village which had a shiny tractor. But the villagers only used it to pull a drag board on the threshing floor. They had done the same thing by hand for hundreds of years. Progress is not a neat thing. Things survive because it’s traditional. We do things that are not exactly logical because our parents did it and that was the way we learned. Logic is not universal. Logic was developed by a certain extent by the Greeks for solving problems. The Greeks and Romans saw in straight lines. But there are cultures that don’t see in straight lines. You put things in line because it made your parents happy. So all these things get passed without words. It’s implied with your parents approval.

SAB: Progress doesn’t go from here to here (except maybe the internet). We have a million phrases that refer to horses. So you have to get rid of them if you create a new world with no horses.

CJC: There are no birds in my Foreigner world.

SAB: These phrases still linger even though city dwellers don’t know anything about it.

CJC: “Aback” is a sailing term.

MB: The phrase “hell to pay” is not paying hell but putting pitch at the bottom of the ship.

CJC: The Romans had difficulty having ships staying together so they roped them together and put pitch in. That’s why they needed to put them to shore to drain.

RJ: In early navigation, they had a sightline sail because they didn’t want to stray from shore.

AQ: What book would contain all these terms?

RJ: A dictionary of phrases?

CJ: Patrick O’Brian.

RJ: The multi-volume Oxford dictionary.

CJC: You can check the Discovery Channel. Don’t believe what they say about the Romans, but they’re good about the Celts and Visigoths. In America it is poorly covered.

RJ: South America, China, Ghengis Khan, and barbarians can give quirky story ideas. The Great Wall didn’t work to keep out the Mongol hordes because someone bribed them. It’s a desolate place so you want to take the money and get out of there. Think about this. Also there are mildly good people and mildly bad people.

CJC: Some people will cheat and game the system.

MB: Everybody, regardless what character or society, if it is a human-like society, everyone has motivation. Usually self-interest. It can be as simple as get food and procreate.

CJC: But one problem is with the concept “I”. In some ancient cultures, “I” is more like “we”. It’s like being married where you can’t distinguish the wife from the husband and it’s more like a collective. In ancient cultures that were isolated by grass, sand, or sea, they haven’t dealt with anyone else. So to enter into mindset of others who don’t think it – then they can’t cope because it’s “weird”.

MB: When it’s a closed society, like Japanese society, they’re aware of things but still there’s “us” and “them” in certain groups. I have a friend who’s half-Japanese and half-American who went back to Japan. She accidentally made gaffes and the women there were angry at her for not doing things properly. They assumed you knew the etiquette and proper word choice.

CJC: In Iceland, if you’re planning a raid, you send them a notice that you’re doing it.

RJ: They’re still hiring people in Iceland to ask if it is okay to build buildings in certain places.

CJC: One general advised his enemies where he was invading and nearly got himself killed.

RJ: In battle sequences, someone usually comes by and shocks everyone with new technology. Like stirrups. There are little technological quirks, but not all of them are battle quirks. Mali used to lose 23% of their crops from pests, but they could stop it by covering the crops with plastic bags.

CJC: That’s also the reason that barley and alcoholic drinks were due to ground storage pits.

RJ: No matter what civilization it is, they’ve discovered something to intoxicate people. Once discover it’s fun.

CJC: It transitioned from religious to recreational.

RJ: You can have civilization and introduce coffee. Suddenly you have a composer who can stay up all night. Bach was a coffee addict.

SAB: There are changes civilization. The eastern European population became more well fed when they discovered New World crops.

CJC: But there was also monoculture. The potato blight led to cannibalism.

MB: That was a result more from English politics.

SAB: Society is can be static, but then someone invents something like the steam engine, and it sends ripples throughout.

MB: But it doesn’t change automatically. Gunpowder. Not everyone went to guns. They used gunpowder for mines and castle sieges.

AQ: What if you have a story where several years have passed and the technology has advanced suddenly? In Avatar, the first series had swords but in the second series, they suddenly got radios.

CJC: What’s the delivery system?

MB: Do they have factories to help them survive?

SAB: You need a whole support system for advanced technology.

MB: In The Planet of the Apes, why was it a primitive society but they also have automatic weapons?

CJC: I would love to see a modern automatic weapon using gun powder. In my Foreigner series, the humans lost the war and had to give their technology to their opponents. One of the technologies nearly turned over is the cell phone. The keeper of technology realizes what the cell phones will disrupt. Things get circumvented. Look at what modern technology does and what it lets loose on the “hen house”. Before we hand out a supposedly benign technology to another society, we should ask: how can it screw it up?

AQ: Eric Flint wrote a book about giving people in the past new technology. There are people arguing about it.

AQ: Starting in 1500s, there were firearms, but then the shoguns banned them for 200 years. But it was a rigid society.

RJ: China also tried to do this. Japan is unique because it’s island. There was opium trading. The British traded it for tea since they were addicted to tea in England.

CJC: Some Americans argue about other countries, why do they not do a, b, or c,? You have to consider how their borders are drawn. England by geologic accident had iron. If you talk about resources on a planet, not all of them will have a Canada where meteors come down and deposit minerals. There are people running around looking for circular depressions for minerals. So when considering your society, how many times and where they’ve been hit by asteroids? Or does the planet have no metal core?

AQ: What about the galactic core? There are problems with radiation and concentration of metals. More radiation means more mutations.

CJC: I recommend the program “How the Universe Works”. Start with the early ones. It has technical detail. Also similar programs on the ancient world. My family are genealogy buffs. In the microcosm of individuals, why and where do they move? The reasons may not be what you thought.

RJ: We tend to focus on things like the steampunk movement. I started to look at weird and wacky cultures in this country that were artificially propelled. In my book City of the Dead, one of my ancestors carved gravestones in Chicago. The story came down in the family that he was paid a little money to carved in Chicago and then had it shipped to New York. But when we looked at a picture of it, it looked like cousin Tommy. So he probably looked at himself to carve it. Look for those people in your family and build the story.

CJC: Each of us are compounded of many stories. Use your imagination. Where did things come from? People came to America from religious upheaval in Europe or the Black Death. It’s not just persecution. Maybe they also just had money to get out of town.

SAB: In Albion’s New England and the Sea, they looked at different cultures, houses and what they ate. It’s an interesting book for American culture. They all spoke English but they came from different parts of England so you see different cultures develop in one culture.

RJ: If they don’t get along with people at home, they left.

AQ: What about religion in culture?

CJC: In the hearth based religions of the Romans and Japanese, the two cultures are remarkably similar in strange ways. But sometimes things get set up. An ancestor religion could become a ruler cult.

MB: One of the things religion is used for, if you don’t have science, is to explain how things occur. They make up stories about the stars, why the sun crosses sky, why the seasons changed, why Uncle Ed got eaten by a bear. Why good and bad things happen.

CJC: They hope to change the universe.

MB: It’s to tell them they aren’t alone in the universe.

AQ: What about the introduction of technology? There were cargo cults in the South Pacific. They saw planes with goods coming to a runway, so the natives knocked down trees and hoped the planes came to them.

MB: That’s superstition.

RJ: Why does the hero jump over the cliff? It’s not logical. Religion can drive people to do things completely against their self interest.

MB: Even if it seems illogical and doesn’t make sense, it will make sense in certain circumstances.

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Stay tuned for Part 5 on world building don’ts.