World Building 101

World Building 101

In light of a semi-serious comment I made on Facebook earlier about my latest stories tending to build worlds where humans don’t exist, I thought that this would be a great time to start posting about world building in general. I’ve been told that my world building and alt-history worlds tends to be my strongest suit as a writer. I also read a lot of fiction that attempts various world building schemes and are not as successful as they could be if they used methods akin to what I do without much thought.

So, what is world building? Well, I’m sure that there’s some fancy-ass dictionary term defining it but I tend to ignore that crap. World building, to me, means building a world to work the way you need it to in order to tell an interesting story. In order to do this, though, you have to sit down and ask yourself a few questions before you start writing. Below are some of the first questions you should consider.

Yes, you'll do a lot of work the reader never sees. This is why writers are masochists. Deal with it.

  1. Sci-fi, hard sci-fi, fantasy, or a mix of them?
  2. Is your story about a far-future civilization? Is it about an advanced race of mortals (notice I don’t say “humanoids”) who have technology most of us haven’t even imagined in our wildest dreams? If so, then your world building will be a lot different than someone who is planning a story set in a world with only a pre-Industrial technological level.

  3. What is my opening salvo?
  4. Are you writing about a group of plucky young mortals who are going to overthrow an oppressive system? Are you writing about a planet about to be destroyed? Is your world about to undergo a major war between Good and Evil? All of these will have very different backstories to give rise to the current history in your setting. You’ll have to think about where the oppressive system came from or what is going to cause planetary destruction (and it’s harder to destroy a planet than you think). What defines “Good” and “Evil” in your world and why?

  5. Will I be relying on or avoiding deus ex machina?
  6. Some stories simply will not work without a deus ex solution. That doesn’t make them bad stories — hell, look at Doctor Who! — but it does mean that if you take away the deus ex, the story fails. Most writers tend to avoid relying on such things and get irritated when their worlds’ internal logic won’t let them get to the particular point Q they need to be at without a deus ex machina. Writers who find themselves painted into that particular corner need to go back and examine the foundations of their world. Usually, if you hit that point, you’ve done something silly such as assume that your world and your mortals must follow Earth and human logic.

    COME AT ME, BRO

    That’s crap. I’m working on a story about quasi-sixth dimensional mortals. Sure, they have humanoid bodies but they also have senses humanity couldn’t dream itself up ever because humanity can’t visualize a tesseract without getting a collective nosebleed. Their technology and the ways in which they interact and interface with it resemble ours almost not at all. They also don’t follow our human logic. Why should they? They are not bloody human! Instead, I’m making their society internally consistent with itself. Sure, they have emotions, goals, and ambitions that us poor quasi-fourth humans can sympathize and empathize with. Still, they ain’t human.

  7. What is magic like in my world?
  8. Yes, you do ask yourself this even if you’re writing the hardest of the hard science fiction. Technology is magic that works within our laws of physics. If you doubt that, consider for a moment what would happen to the poor sod who fell into a wormhole that spit him out in 1387 AD London and who happened to have a flashlight with him. Yep — he’d be considered a witch because, even though a flashlight is technology (and rather simple tech at that), it’s magic to someone from seven centuries ago.

Once you’ve asked and answered these questions, you’re ready for some of the more advanced stuff such as considering your world’s mythos, its history, societies, economics (and yes, even a world that would give Marx a hard-on has economics), climate, weather patterns, and the rest. We’ll get into those things next week, though, because otherwise I’ll be here until March writing this post.

Don't build another Earth. Earth v1.0 sucked balls.

Do you have any questions or see anything I missed? If so, hit me up here or on Facebook and I’ll see what I can do!

— G.K.

The State of Fandom and the Hugos: Category Error

The State of Fandom and the Hugos: Category Error

I mentioned this monster post in a comment at Sarah Hoyt’s this weekend. Here it is. Grab something to drink because this one’s a doozy, mes amis.

So, the Hugo voting period ended and the winners will be announced soon. There’s been the predictable resurgence in Puppy-related topics recently with the mainstream press parroting the press releases from Tor et alia to the effect that the Puppies and those of us who think they have a point are evil, racist, sexist, homophobic, hateful people who want to build new Dachaus and gulags in order to ensure that only white heterosexual men can own property while the rest of the world is enslaved to them. Those of us who know better, of course, just roll our eyes and wonder why we’re always the ones being accused of planning to build the concentration camps and gulags while the ideologues the Puppy-kickers uphold as being morally superior seem to be the ones who manage to actually have such things turn up in their back yards.

…but I digress.

For decades, there have been award ceremonies that attempt to showcase “the best” works in a genre. The Hugos, once upon a time, (arguably) were the premiere award for science fiction works. However, back in the days when the Hugo was a worthwhile award, the voting pool for the award was much larger, making it much less susceptible to industry or pool capture. WorldCon attendance would have been much higher as well and overall membership (even non-attending) would have been higher. But, over time, the publishing industry captured WorldCon and the Hugos which turned them from a fan award into a marketing stunt.

Don’t get me wrong — the bylaws and the rules are clear. No, what happened is very subtle. It probably started back in the late 1970s to mid 1980s at the earliest, early 1990s at the latest. The houses themselves were being taken over by liberal art majors who, having grown up steeped in the mythos of “the men who took down Nixon,” came into the publishing world with the same zeal to change the world instead of to help find great stories that people wanted to buy. Factor in the rage many of them had felt throughout the 1980s over Reagan’s cowboy diplomacy, his Brandenburg Gate speech where he had the audacity to demand that the morally superior USSR tear down the Berlin Wall, the cognitive dissonance that they felt when the Eastern Bloc collapsed and the USSR voted itself out of existence…and these were hammers desperately in search of a nail. The publishing world was just that nail.

They honed in on science fiction and fantasy specifically because it was future-oriented. Also, because it didn’t require a lot of experience in scholarship or other fields already (try getting into biographies or academic publishing with just a degree in English). Ideologically, they’d already begun taking over a lot of other places — schools, colleges, the art world, film, television, music — so publishing was just the next step.

Now, this wasn’t some organized take over with a great conspiracy where a secret cabal issued diktats — I’m not a tin-foil hatter. It was a long-term underlying trend that was baked into socialism and progressive philosophy.

So, once they’d gotten into the top spots of the big houses like Tor and the fantasy/sci-fi imprints of the other big six, they started making it difficult for anyone outside of their social circles to work there which slowly ensured that agents pushing authors whose politics differed would go nowhere. The stories became homogenized as well, following a set formula with characters that were uniform, uni-dimensional, predictable, and uninteresting. Readers revolted and stopped attending the conventions. But the publishers kept going to the conventions and kept sending their star authors (which dragged out some fans) which led to…the conventions being captured.

Which is what happened to WorldCon and the Hugos. The Hugos aren’t a fan award these days. They haven’t been for the better part of nearly thirty years now. They’re a publisher award because it’s been the publishers who were controlling the voter pool because the voter pool was less than 1000 people. Of course they were in political lockstep and of course they were pissed off when Correia and the rest of us Puppies came in and proved it.

But now on to the real problem. That’s right everyone — 700 words to get to the point of the post. We’ve been accused of destroying the Hugos and we’ve accused the others of destroying them. However, the real problem is CATEGORY ERROR — we’ve never really defined what the problem is. Oh, we think we have. We’ve intuitively got a grasp of what it is. We agree that there is a problem. But have we defined it? No. Not so much.


Category Error — having stated or defined a problem so poorly that it becomes impossible to solve that problem, through dialectic or any other means. Also, not quite as cool as Loki’s Wager but still a good excuse to run a graphic with Tom Hiddleston, yo

So, what is the actual problem? The actual problem is that what the Hugos were created to recognize no longer exists. Back when the Hugos and WorldCon first started, an avid reader could go through every sci-fi book published in a year. But these days, “science fiction” is a massive genre that has spawned dozens of child/sub genres. It’s the same story in the fantasy world. And the publishers and the folks who captured the Hugos over the past few decades represent a tiny sliver of the fanbase and readership — the sliver that aspire more towards the once academic, avant-garde literary-chic style of writing. This group is also incredibly active and activist which is why they have a tendency to take over many other conventions and force out groups they dislike (which is why the Honey Badger Brigade got shut out and nearly arrested for showing up at Calgary Comic Con).

The WorldCon/Hugo by-laws make it very difficult to change and recognize the new reality and…well…doing so would cost the publishers and the lit-chic folks their powerbase. Therefore, if those of us on the Puppy-side want to really fix this and have an award that is meaningful, durable, not subject to capture by one group or another, and represents the best works without showing the divide between works that sell well and works that win awards that the Hugos have shown in recent years, then we have our work cut out for us. The first thing we have to do is actually start defining stuff. I’ll expand on this further in later entries but for now, here are some of the child-genres I’ve noticed in science fiction and fantasy that we should consider:

Science Fiction:
Space Opera
Dystopian
Cyber
Military
Zombie Apocalypse
Superhero
Hard sci-fi
-Physics
-Chemistry
-Biology
-Astronomy
-Space Exploration
Post-Apocalyptic
Medical
Literary
Expanded Canon
-Star Trek novels
-Star Wars novels
-Halo book
-StarCraft books
-Halflife books
-Dune novels
-Doctor Who novles
-The X-Files books
-Batman comics
-Marvel: The Avengers comics

Fantasy:
High Fantasy
Epic Fantasy
Swords-and-Sorcery
Nordic
Shamanistic
Native American
Medieval
Urban
Dark
Surreal
Dystopian
Superhero
Romance
Literary
Expanded Canon
-Warcraft novels
-World of Warcraft novels
-Diablo novels
-Legend of Zelda comics
-Thor: The Dark World comics
-Doctor Who novels

Look, the simple fact of the matter is that our genres are growing and this is a good thing. We need to define the child/sub genres and start expanding awards to include them. And, we may need to give up on the idea of there ever being a single “best science fiction for the year” award ever again. It’s become a bit like trying to decide which vehicle is the best for a given year these days. Yes, some are objectively better than others but when you’ve got so many doing so many different things… it’s difficult to say “this is the best OVERALL” without actually defining what in the name of Issac Asimov you’re talking about.

Category error, guys. Let’s start fixing it, shall we?

— G.K.

We Didn’t Start the Flamewar — Part Two

We Didn't Start the Flamewar -- Part Two

So, some of you might be wondering exactly how this whole thing got started. I posted a brief-ish history earlier. I’m not going to rehash all of that now. Instead, I’m going to focus on the three most recent events in this culture war. I’m not going to pretend to be completely unbiased in this but I am going to try to be fairly accurate. There is a lot of he-said-she-said to some of it so feel free to check out other summaries. Just be aware that everyone has their own agenda so take it all with a grain of salt (including this one).

The first of the three events to take place was GamerGate. Know Your Meme has a pretty thorough coverage of it so if you’ve got no clue what it is and want a play-by-play, I’d suggest checking it out. The long and short of it is that the whole thing started over a game developer (Zoe Quinn) who cheated on her boyfriend. Her boyfriend posted an expose of it showing that she’d supposedly slept around to try to get good reviews of her game. It morphed from a movement to improve ethics in gaming journalism to a big thing about feminism and gaming in general. The anti-GamerGater side (populated by Social Justice Warriors or SJWs) tends to think that gaming is sexist and that the tech sector is sexist. They think that the way women are depicted in games is sexist and that games should tell a more “socially just” message. The pro-GamerGater side thinks that games are fine and that if the antis don’t like them, they’re free to make their own games and see which sell better. The antis have, so far, managed to get some of the pro-GG groups like the HoneyBadgerBridage (a group of female gamers and game developers) thrown out of conventions because they “made the [antis] feel threatened.”

That’s the level of maturity we’re dealing with. The antis can’t actually argue anything rationally and can’t be bothered to make their own games with their own message. They want to force current gaming companies to make the games they think should be made and force the rest of us to play them whether we want to or not. And, when we say that’s stupid, we’re told we’re threatening them and harassing them and that we’re being sexist. We also get lumped in with the PUAs like Roosh (who isn’t actually a bad guy — I’ve talked with him and he’s nice in person) and some of the really crazy MRAs who do hate women which would be like us lumping the antis in with groups who want to raise all children as girls and kill or force all males to undergo sex reassignment surgery *eyeroll*

The next big event was ShirtStorm. Back in November, the European Space Agency landed the Philae lander on a comet for the first time in human history. One of the guys on the team was wearing a shirt that a female friend had made for him — the shirt was a bowling shirt that depicted comic-hero women with laser guns and tight outfits. He was interviewed briefly (he wasn’t the spokesman for the team or the team lead — the team lead was a woman, in fact). Rose Eveleth, a journalist for The Atlantic, managed to miss the big news item (the historic comet landing) and, in a stereotypically womanish manner, focus in on what the guy was wearing instead. She made a big deal about the shirt that caused the historic comet landing to be forgotten as everyone on Twitter got the vapors over the women on this guy’s shirt. She later claimed she was “doxxed” (meaning her personal information was posted and she was getting harassed at home) but there was absolutely no evidence this happened (whereas there was plenty of evidence that this happened with anti-GamerGate people). I personally spent the better part of four days checking the usual doxxing sites AND the deepnet/Tornet for any trace of it and there was nada. The only way I could dig up her info was to hit up a contact I have who can get that kind of stuff and all I asked that person was if they could get it. Unsurprisingly, the answer was “yes” but that does not mean Rose Eveleth was doxxed any more than it means that oh, say, the Governor General of Canada’s direct line (bypasses switchboard, bypasses secretary, no voicemail, rings through even if phone is turned off) was “doxxed.”*

ShirtStorm managed to die down with most of us women realizing that some women were never going to get the whole science thing because they just couldn’t be rational. I wrote my long series on ShirtStorm and Women In Science (Feminism Is Dead, Why Don’t Women Go Into Science?, Why Don’t Women Go Into Science? Part II, Women In Science Part III: Can We Force More Women to Become NTs?, Women In Science: Can We Create More Female NTs?) and things seemed to go back to their uneasy truce where the minority of us wondered just when the majority of slavering crazed fems were going to find something to go batcrap crazy over again.

The third event is HugoGate or PuppyGate or whatever you want to call it. That really deserves its own entry — which it is going to get. However, I’m going to give it a quick rundown here anyway so here goes. This year was the third year that Sad Puppies ran a list of people they thought should get nominated for the Hugos. The last two years Larry Correia ran Sad Puppies — this year it was Brad Torgersen. Larry started it because he believed that worthy folks were being ignored or left off the ballot due to the authors’ political beliefs. He said that if any right-wing author got nominated, the Powers That Be with WorldCon (the group that owns and organizes the Hugos) would throw a fit of epic proportions. Thus far, he’s been proven right. The first two years, Sad Puppies wasn’t very successful but this year it was. There’s some argument as to why that is the case and I’m still reading up on it myself. However, the end result has been that Larry and Brad (who are really nice guys and good writers) have been slandered, libeled, threatened, and harassed. A lot of other good authors have been harassed as well just because they were nominated by Sad Puppies and some even felt they had to withdraw from being nominated. The PuppyKickers are threatening to vote No Award in every category where there are Sad Puppy candidates (I think) which would prove Larry’s point completely and would prove that the Hugos are pretty much worthless. The PuppyKickers claim that the Sad Puppies are all a bunch of white, sexist men who nominated nothing but white, sexist men even though SP3 consists of women, Latinos, blacks, Asians, gays (I think?), and people of all political backgrounds and nominated writers of all colors, genders, and backgrounds. Also now, according to the PuppyKickers, those of us who are sympathetic to SP are neonazis.

So you can see why some of us are finally getting a bit fed up with this whole thing.

In the next part I’ll do a more in-depth history of Sad Puppies so stay tuned!

— G.K.

*No, it’s not the Governor General and I’m not going to reveal whether or not it’s a government agency I could get access to or who my friend is or how I know them or what but, suffice it to say that just because this person can get their hands on the information does not mean it’s in the wild. This person once had a pepperoni pizza (paid for by an anonymous BitCoin account) sent to a friend of theirs who was in Israel and that friend, to this day, still has no idea who sent them the pizza. And no, my posting this won’t give the game away because that friend has no clue who I am or that I know this mutual contact.

GamerGate: Art’s Last Stand

GamerGate: Art's Last Stand

There have been so many good posts about GamerGate and NotYourShield that have covered just about every aspect of the scandal from the social ranking (geeks and nerds who survive to adulthood rarely give two craps what the in-crowd thinks or says about them) to pointing out how the rabid so-called “social justice warriors” have ruined so much of the entertainment industry already and more. But there are two aspects that I feel have been overlooked: the first — journalism is not some noble, ethical profession filled with intelligent and educated people who want to report the truth to the world. The second is that gaming is the last form of art to stand up and shine a mirror in everyone’s face instead of just the current cultural boogie-man’s.

 

The first point could, frankly, take ages to cover. Suffice it to say: L. Rhodes is wrong because gaming journalists are no different than other journalists who have covered up scandals (such as Walter Duranty covering up and excusing Stalin’s massacres), sold their souls to keep access (such as Eason Jason and CNN covering up Saddam Hussein’s horrors or journalists not reporting on Hamas using hospitals to launch attacks), proven themselves to be completely, willfully, callously, and unfixably ignorant about reality (crack open any article on science and tell me it’s written by someone who has an honest-to-God clue of how to read statistics), and acted unethically, calling in favors of all kinds (such as David Gregory getting his good buddy the DC prosecutor not to haul him off to prison for breaking the same law that has caused veterans and honest travelers to spend time in the lock-up for not knowing DC’s rather insane laws on guns, magazines, clips, and bullets). If someone is a journalist, that’s not something to be proud of. It means that they weren’t skillful, honorable, or intelligent enough to get a better job — such as being the pianist in a whore house. To be a journalist is to be without honor, ethics, and intelligence.

 

As a matter of fact, the only thing lower than a journalist that isn’t a politician would be a social justice warrior.

 

Social justice warriors are modern day Thomas Bowdlers. They are the kind of people who will deface the Sistine Chapel because it offends them. They would rip apart the Pieta because it’s offensive. They have a lot in common with the Taliban and that ilk in that they will destroy something priceless and precious, something that can never be rebuilt, repaired, or replaced, with the same mindless self-righteous zealotry that saw the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan. These are the same kind of people who have destroyed (in order) academia, the arts, the news media, the broadcast industry, the publishing and literary industry, the school system, the movie and television studios, and the music industry.[1] Not satisfied with that, they’re going after the last hold-outs to their Puritanical tyranny — indie writers, comic books, and video games.

 

Social justice warriors cannot stand the thought that someone out there, somewhere, might not be in sync with their groupthink. Some of us out here might honestly believe in marriage equality, a truly colorblind society, legal equality of the sexes (even when it might not work in women’s favor), and still have absolutely no problem with a world where Playboy, World of Warcraft, the Mona Lisa, Shakespeare, Larry Correia, Sarah Hoyt, Robert Heinlein, and A Canticle for Leibowitz exist. Some of us even enjoy almost all of those things while still contentedly working alongside a gay FTM black man, having a lesbian sister, a Southern Baptist mother and a Roman Catholic father, and going to an Eastern Orthodox church every Sunday.

 

I’m not delusional enough to think that my books are high art. They aren’t. They are pretty good reads with interesting characters and a fun plot. They’re not going to be assigned as homework in two hundred years. But, they do sell fairly well considering that I am my own marketing department. I’ve heard plenty of good comments and constructive criticism. I doubt that many of our current games will be remembered in a century and I can guarantee that almost none of our movies or television shows will be remembered because there’s little that is actually memorable about them aside from a handful of shows that ignore social justice warriors and focus on telling a good yarn (Doctor Who, The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones).

 

The long and short of it is that we can’t let these Bowlderites destroy the last vestige of art, storytelling, and original thinking in our culture. We probably won’t let that happen at any rate because we’re geeks and nerds. We’re the people who built the Internet so that it treats censorship as damage and routes around it. We’re the people who invented TOR. We’re the guys and gals who made Amazon popular. We’re the ones who have dragged civilization and culture kicking and screaming into the Digital Age. And, by and large, we’re not sexist. We’re not bigoted. We couldn’t care less what people do in their bedrooms (so long as it’s consensual), whether or not they go to church, or anything like that. Gamers, geeks, and nerds are probably the most open, inclusive, welcoming, and tolerant groups in existence. We’re not going to let the Ministry of Truth wannabes tell us what kind of books we can or cannot read anymore than we let the Roman Catholic church tell us the same. We’re not going to let these groupthink weenies tell us what kind of games we can or cannot play anymore than we let Congress tell us that. We’re not going to let a bunch of pretentious fakes tell us anything — especially when any one of us (on average) knows a hell of a lot more about history, law, tech, art, literature, grammar, and debating than any of those dopes.

 

So, let’s quit letting them push us around. They’ve cowed the popular crowds and the in-groups by threatening to call them names and spread nasty rumors about them if they don’t cave in to peer pressure and wear the right jeans and shirts, use the right words, make fun of the right people, and go to the right parties. Fuck that, mates. We’re the ones who got made fun of, who don’t get to go to those parties and we’re all past the point of caring about that kind of petty crap. We’re going to keep on keeping on and if the SJWs don’t like it…well, we’ll treat them the way we treat Jack Thompson whenever he starts running his mouth. And, if they don’t get the picture after learning that we know that they’re a big joke…we’re the ones who built the Internet, guys. We can always reprogram the damned thing to keep them locked away from us the same way we keep our toddlers from playing with our gadgets.

 

Who knows? Maybe locking them off in a kiddie corral where they can’t hurt themselves or anyone else would be for the best. Maybe once we show that these morons have absolutely no clue what they’re talking about, the rest of the culture will start to wonder just why they were so willing to throw themselves and their priceless pieces of art off a bridge just because a bunch of SJWs told them to.

 

— G.K.

 

[1]Exactly how they’ve managed to destroy all of these things will be the subject of future entries. This one is already clocking in at almost 1.5k words and if I get into this, we could be here until Christmas.