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When writing science fiction, what does it take to ‘build’ a new world for your novel? Research, research, research! Although science fiction appears to be top-heavy with spaceships and space battles, to be among the stars means there are other planets to consider, which will be my focus for this article. Otherwise, I find it effective to use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a guideline, to make sure I cover all the bases.
|Attribution: Maslow Hierarchy of Needs|
First, start with the physical world. If humans are already on your ‘new world’, they will have brought human developments with them. Even if you envision pod houses floating about with anti-gravity and geopositional guidance systems, you should know, and occasionally address, building considerations that your reader would otherwise question. For example, how is waste recycled in your traveling pod-home? Where and how do you renew your water supply? Even if you only provide half a line as a description, “… he moved it to the flash-bin,” or “… as he hovered six meters above the lake to up-vac another thousand liters…” your reader will understand you took the time to build your world thoroughly.
If your planet has life-forms, look at the life-forms on Earth. We have creatures that fly, swim, crawl, jump, run, slither, and glide. We have plants that grow out of the ground, fungi that grow under the ground, aerial plants in trees. We have microbes that range from beneficial yeasts to Ebola. Take some time to consider evolution and look for little details that may escape notice. For example, you may have your aliens use cilia to communicate in addition to sensing their environment!
There are an estimated 8.7 million species on Earth. Just look at this excerpt taken from
|Spiders and scorpions||102,248|
|Flowering plants (angiosperms)||281,821|
|Ferns and horsetails||12,000|
|Red and green algae||10,134|
do not include domestic animals such as sheep, goats and camels. Nor do they
include single-celled organisms such as bacteria. The original data can be found at: http://bit.ly/UMehiN
complex, what about other biospheres? A
little research on your part will go a long way!
hierarchy is safety. How do your
pod-homes keep from running into each other?
What kinds of unique employment are available to your characters due to
the physical aspects you design for your world?
How do your spaceships know where, when, and how to achieve parking
orbits? When you latch onto an idea,
make certain you follow through with your reasoning, whether you explain your
reasoning right away or not. In my To Be Sinclair series, there are regular
EM transmitters for most purposes, but for travel between the stars I needed a
mode of instant communication. As a
result, in book one, DIGNITY, I
mention ‘quantum transmitters’:
had never been inveigled nor enchanted, the two massively complicated
techniques used in producing quantum transmitters, with any other particles
whatsoever, much less with the highly-classified materials, filaments, and
diaphragms used for transmitters.
Nevertheless, I do not describe their design more fully until book seven, NOBILITY, because I had no need to do so until then.
One book I am writing has a lot of unique life-forms that love to gobble up human life-force, so I have bounty hunters who expand the ‘clear zones’ for human habitation. Even after a human presence of 70 years, the clear zones barely total 500 square kilometers, perhaps 1/3 the size of Connecticut. Why? Unless you have driven cross-country or hiked for a distance of 20 miles, you probably do not realize how enormous our planet is! The U.S is 6.5% of the world’s land-mass, Connecticut is only 0.01%, and by land-mass I mean only 29.2% of the planet’s surface. And life-forms tend to reflect one quality above all others: tenacity. So if you have a colony of humans, consider how long it would take for them to tame the planet.
If you think about the other needs listed in the pyramid, such as health and resources, your mind can explode with the possibilities, especially if you combine the two. What will human occupation do to the resources on the planet, health-wise? Will human microbes destroy the beautiful ganglionic spider-beings excreting the planet’s most valuable export? Would the humans need to be quarantined, or would the spiders? Then turn it around – what natural resources might affect your colonists, and would it slowly kill them off, or would living on the planet mean the people are constantly ‘high’?
The third step given by Maslow is love and belonging. When creating your society, consider what the goals of the establishment by humans were. Did the explorers want to bring life-forms back to Earth, were they escaping overpopulation, or do they simply plan to rape the planet of its natural resources? Explorers want to understand, people escaping overpopulation want to expand, rapists want to exploit for gain. It is an especially effective story-telling device to have your protagonist represent qualities that contrast with their society, determined to Make A Change.
Now look at the descriptors: friendship, family, sexual intimacy. In what ways will your heroine’s personality differ from the prevalent ones in her society? Why does she stand up for changes, anyway, and how do they affect her family, her lover, and her friends? The social system you devise should reflect everything from the base of the pyramid!
The best part about world-building in science fiction is getting to create intelligent aliens! Take everything I’ve mentioned above, and apply it to your alien species. I would encourage you, however, not to completely eliminate humans in your writing. Unless you anthropomorphize your aliens extensively, the fact is that you are writing for human readers, so if you try to eliminate the human element altogether, your readers may have little sympathy for your protagonist. Little interest = boredom = reduced readership. And we don’t want that, now, do we?
Why does Emperor Victor Sinclair fall
madly in love with Lady Felicia Sorensen?
She is a High Royal lady
scientist in a heavily patriarchal society, and the Emperor has only dated
socialites who see him as an icon and a prize. Felicia’s intellect and
capacity to see him as a man with more than sexual needs instantly inspires
Victor to want her as his Empress, for he needs true love and support, not a
lady who will be a burden upon his time and energy.
Although he entices her with all the
resources at his command, from sexual stimulation and outrageously expensive
gowns to promising she can ‘write her own job description’, Felicia cautiously
learns the differences between love and manipulation. After an
interplanetary invasion and being censured by a ducal panel, all due to one of
her inventions, she must choose between toughing out the extreme social and
political pressures of a high elevation, and pursuing her scientific
achievements. And Victor finds a way for Felicia to do them both!
of the seven-part To Be Sinclair
series. The saga begins with DIGNITY
and its companion volume MAJESTY,
which describe the romance and first years of marriage of the Emperor and
Empress of the Sinclair Demesnes. A few scenes describe sexually explicit
Eva Caye is the author of the To Be Sinclair series of science fiction romances.
After 17 years of teaching, a health crisis
forced Eva to re-evaluate her life.
Morphing from dilettante writer to crafting 8 books in two years, she
published her début novel, DIGNITY,
in August 2012, with MAJESTY expected
out in October (update to follow).
She lives in Louisville,
Kentucky, in a tiny, century-old farmhouse with her incredible husband and two
Like any skill worth mastering, the
writing of science fiction surely takes a lifetime to master. That’s assuming
you’re one of the few who masters it at all. Realizing that, I knew I would
face countless challenges as I penned my first novel-length science fiction
work, Green Light Delivery. Because
of all the sci-fi I’ve read, I should have been able to predict many of these
challenges. Still, it turned out to be a very different view from the active
side of the creative process.
faces a sci-fi author is that of language. The issue presents itself as a
complex web of decisions for the writer, based on her intended audience, the
type of sci-fi she’s writing, and her own background and level of obsession.
contemporary or near-future sci-fi. This issue can manifest itself in a number
of ways, depending on the specifics of your story. Here are a few you should
expect to mull over:
but in the distant future, (a) will everyone still speak our current languages,
whether it makes sense or not (Planet of
the Apes), or (b) will you go through the massive effort of showing
linguistic developments (A Clockwork
Orange; and be aware that Anthony Burgess was a trained linguist).
involves humans, how will the humans communicate with the other species? (a) Will
the aliens have pain-stakingly learned English? (b) Will the human stumble by
in the alien language?
another level of decision:
language. (Please refer to caveat above, regarding linguistic skills. If you
are an author who struggles to comprehend its
versus it’s, or if you struggled in
Spanish 101, then inventing a grammatically consistent, credible language is
not the right choice for you. Almost nobody can do this well.)
small vocabulary or list of common phrases you can use to imply the alien
tongue, and then switch to English. That can be a useful way to imply a
language, and remind a reader that characters aren’t speaking English.
who don’t want to deal with the different languages at all. (c) Offer some sort
of universal translation device (This is hardest to pull off, unless you’re doing
Douglas Adams-style broad comedy or writing for Doctor Who.)
place in an alternative universe where there never has been such a thing as
English, you face different problems. You want your reader to assume that English
is standing in for the actual language of the planet/solar system. But what can
you do to show that this isn’t really English? I decided to invent proper names
(both of characters and places) and common nouns that didn’t sound like
English, and therefore reminded readers the they weren’t in Kansas anymore.
largely newly-coined words, can make sense:
is a Yeril with a bnarli in his forehead.
still guess that Webrid is the name
of a male character, Yeril is some
sort of category (tribe? region? species? school affiliation?) and bnarli is a thing that fits in his head
somehow. Keeping the word “forehead” is important in this example. It gives the
reader a familiar point of reference.
Invented words, introduced one at a time and used consistently, are easy to slide into the reader’s vocabulary, just as in any other genre a reader can be expected to learn and remember the names of new characters.
Webrid is a carter, like his mother and grandfather before him. It’s not glamorous work, but it mostly pays the bills, and it gives him time to ogle the sexy women on the streets of Bexilla’s capital. Mostly, he buys and sells small goods and does the occasional transport run for a client.
Then he gets mugged by a robot.
Now, with a strange green laser implanted in his skull and a small fortune deposited in his bank account, Webrid has to make the most difficult delivery of his life. He doesn’t know who his client is, or what he’s carrying, but he knows that a whole lot of very dangerous people are extremely interested in what’s in his head. Literally. And they’ll do whatever it takes to get it.
With the help of some truly alien friends, a simple carter will journey across worlds to deliver his cargo. And hopefully keep his head in the process.
Anne E. Johnson is based in Brooklyn and has published over thirty short stories in a variety of genres and for both adults and children.
Her first science fiction novel, Green Light Delivery, was published in June, 2012, by Candlemark and Gleam. She also writes novels for tweens. Her other novels include Ebenezer’s Locker and Trouble at the Scriptorium.