Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Stuff of Gods: Building a World

 I'm baack, picking up where I left off. In my last post at the SFR Brigade, I talked about creating cultures. Today, I'll discuss building worlds.  What's the difference, you might ask? Good question.

Culture includes the rules and norms a community uses to maintain its social and economic cohesiveness, govern resources, and define the relationship of the individual to the wider universe. A world is a place where multiple cultures coexist (or collide) and the methods by which those relationships are mediated. For example, think about your place in the world. You probably have a national identity (e.g. American, British, Australian), perhaps a sub-culture within there (e.g. New Yorker, Welsh) that shapes your individual identity and the rules you use to structure your lives. But we also interact across those identities. Mediation takes place through the internet (we're all here sharing our stories), at the United Nations, through global corporation (a coke in every refrigerator) among many others. Those mediation institutions give us ways to communicate and connect but they are partial, may not be all that transparent in terms of rules and morals, and overlap with the everyday rules we use to survive--at work, in the community, at home with the family. The world is the culture that rules them all.

Writing Science Fiction is, at its heart, world building. By definition, its humans in space (usually from multiple places) engaging with aliens. Culture meets culture.

Take Star Trek, a world most of us are familiar with in some fashion.  The Federation is the mediating entity that allows aliens of all species to work together on something as small as a starship hurdling through space with the mission of meeting more species with different cultures. Military discipline serves as structure for managing it, with hierarchy of command necessary to handle an emergency in warp speed. There's a tool box for making just-in-time adjustments to new situations, including a universal translator, Xenobiology or the study of alien anatomy for the doctors in the sickbay, stun settings on phasers, to allow for different types of interactions, among many others.

Leonard Nimoy William Shatner Star Trek 1968

As new cultures appear, or existing ones evolve, new dangers, insights and opportunities emerge, the Federation too has to change. New species and new situations can put existing worlds to the test. That prime directive of theirs always threw a monkey wrench into defining ethics. 

Another mediation mechanism in Start Trek, and often in science fiction (although not so obvious and some out there might disagree) is a philosophical, almost religious commitment to the scientific method. Our heroes and heroines tend to gather data, analyze and then decide. While periodically our protagonists are challenged to take faith-based steps, that scientific mindset in many ways still dominates. Its science that defines how they interact with new species. They watch, gather data, act, gather more data, react.
But look at the emotionally driven characters always present in Star Trek, you ask?  Spock vs McCoy or Worf vs Data.  Even so, McCoy uses science for all medical decisions he takes, and Work scans with the best of them, unless honor rears its head in the decision-making process.  To effectively deal across cultures, being able to ask questions, assess danger, make decisions, requires an intellectual methodology based on ration, not just instinct. Both are needed, but science is usually there.

So if you are flying along, minding your own business, and you bump into a new species, what happens and what do you do? 

World building provides the answers.

Want to chat more? Me too.  Come find me at my blog, sabrinagarie.com or say hi on Facebook.

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