March 22nd, 2012


More Dragons than Black People

I finished my rough draft of the novel a couple of weeks ago and decided I would call it the Godless.

"We no longer live in a world with divine judgment upon our souls. Rapists and lovers, killers and soldiers, it is you and I who decide what is right, what is wrong. It is our rules, our yokes, our morals and our authority that punish and celebrate."

The above is the quote I have at the start of the book. I wrote it months ago, figuring that I would delete it, but it remains. Indeed, I created an entire book within the book from which that quote is drawn. I decided to use it within the novel to detail the world after the gods had died, to convey to readers the consequences of what the war among the gods were.

The a degree, information like this helps the world building, which is one of those things I have gotten into in the last few years. There's something fascinating about turning out a whole world from various ideas and concepts and genre rules. The Red Sun stories, for example, were born out of the steampunk genre and my own concerns with the environment. The red sky, the broken ground, the hole through the world, the people who rebuild themselves from machinery, all of that came when I started welding environmentalism to steampunk, though I doubt much of it is easily seen in the finished work. The stories were never meant to be environmentalism, so a lot of it dropped out as the various plots and stories took over, but you have to start somewhere, and that was the initial concept.

For the Godless, I began with the idea that the corpses of the gods lay across the world, that they were part of the world, and that they conveyed questions relating to mortality, evolution, and creationism. Yet, I still had--and have--to make the world of dead gods believable.

One of the legitimate complaints against fantasy in general, I believe, is that a lot of the imagination in the work is lazy. It doesn't have to be, but a lot of books are, lets be honest, pseudo European landscapes without the scabs and smell, and the characters in them are pseudo British men and women who when they see a black person are more surprised than when they see a dragon or a divine entity. In fact, dragons probably feature more prominently than non-white characters in fantasy novels, a statistic that I have not researched at all, but which I'm pretty sure exists.

It doesn't have to be, however. The first step of world building across the fantasy landscape is done by the knowledge of the genre, rather than individuals. As a writer, you can rely upon the genre to do some work for you. As a reader, you no longer have to rely upon a new author of a fantasy series to create a huge, sprawling, fuedal complex society. Instead, you can rely upon your knowledge of the genre as a whole to do that for you. Just as you can rely upon the genre to tell you that magic is a power that takes time to learn. That knights are brave and when they are not, they have failed, somehow. You know dwarves have beards and live in underground. You know elves are pretty and elegant. You know dragons are dangerous. You know the gods are right around the corner. Different novels tweak things here and there to a various degree--pick your example, basically--but there's a base level of world building that the genre has created, and which both the author and the reader have to engage in, either to subvert, build upon, or go along with.

I don't want to make it seem like I am being overly cynical about the state of world building in fantasy, based on that last paragraph. There are elements to be cynical on--the reliance of European settings, the fact that the worlds are, generally speaking, so white, and that when non-white characters appear they are cultural cliches. Those are real issues, but they are also issues that some fantasy novels do engage with, and try to change. But a genre shared world building knowledge amongst the readership is neither a terrible, nor a great thing. It simply is part of the genre knowledge, and all genres, from romance, to crime, to SF, have their genre knowledge that lays the foundation of world building down for the author when he or she sits down to write.

The trick, then, for the author creating a new world, is how she and he will engage with the genre knowledge, the history, the work done by others, and the shortcuts that exist through that information for world building and characterisation. I find it interesting, myself, to weld my initial ideas into that, to see how they can fit into the genre and the world building, and to how you can change it and go with it. For example, in the questions of creationism and evolution, which lurk behind the idea of a dead god, and the world afterward, I have chosen to deliberately step away from the whiteness of the genre, though for anyone who knows my work, this won't be a surprise, and I've let ideas such as refugees and racial inequality slip into the book with an easy eye, because all of that is important to me. It's a multicultural world, and I do think all novels, no matter their genre, should reflect that.

Anyhow, better finish this up. Got some work to do this afternoon before a meeting and I suspect this is a huge, rambling, all over the place kind of post without any direction in it. But that's okay. Life's like that, some days.