Tag Archives: worldbuilding

Appendices in Novels

Things I do not like to see in novels – Kalbzayn’s World

This is a bit of old news, but sometimes I keep things in my writing queue for longer than I should.

In the article cited above, Kalbzayn complains about supplemental material in speculative fiction novels.

Right away, before the story begins, Holly includes a guide giving rules on how to pronounce the names in the story…

…I absolutely hate stuff like this. I was an Arabic linguist for a while and truly have an appreciation for languages that sound quite a bit differently than English. When I read a book, I don’t want to think about these kind of rules.

I am not a fan of detailed maps for the same reason either […] I can normally get a good enough picture of the location in my head if the author has done their job. Us readers should never have to rely on a map to make sense of what is going on.

Now, maybe I’m just a geek or whatever, but I actually prefer having those kinds of things included in a book. I’ve always loved maps – in fifth grade (back when PCs were primitive and no one had ever heard of color monitors) I’d spend hours playing with a game that quizzed you on the locations of various countries. I’ve always had a good sense about geography, and having maps of a fantasy or science fiction world helps me visualize better how the author pictures his own universe. It gives me a better sense of where things are located in relation to one another and better understand why, for example, it might take weeks (rather than days) to travel from Point A to Point B.

Similarly, when character names are exotic or unusual, I appreciate it when authors include a pronunciation guide. For example, “Tobias Buckell”:http://www.tobiasbuckell.com includes a pronunciation guide in “Crystal Rain”:http://www.amazon.com/gp/redirect.html%3FASIN=0765312271%26tag=writersblog05-20%26lcode=xm2%26cID=2025%26ccmID=165953%26location=/o/ASIN/0765312271%253FSubscriptionId=1N9AHEAQ2F6SVD97BE02. Personally, I don’t mind looking these things up as they help me enjoy the universe this author has created. I would rather know how the _author_ pronounces the names rather than try to figure them out for myself and risk botching the job.

Understanding the geography of a speculative universe and knowing how to pronounce names make the universe more authentic and, for me at least, more enjoyable all around. Authors can’t please everyone, of course. Those of us who enjoy these kinds of appendices thank the authors. And those who don’t – well, you’re allowed to just skip them.

Escapism and Imagination

I stumbled across a debate yesterday on the topic of escapism, worldbuilding, and speculative fiction. I had initially intended to contribute my own thoughts to this discussion, but after having perused a number of _other_ opinions on various websites and blogs, I doubt very highly that there is anything I could add that hasn’t already been said a dozen different ways already. So, allow me a moment to rabbit trail from that discussion and go in a slightly different, but related, direction.

One of the claims often made about speculative fiction is that people immerse themselves in it as a way to escape from the realities of life for a little while. I’m comfortable with the notion that at least _some_ people who read speculative fiction do, indeed, read it for this exact purpose. But I’d like to explore the question of why _do_ people read this genre. Surely not everyone who enjoys speculative fiction seeks to escape real life, right? Because wouldn’t that mean that people were so ill-adjusted to real life that they can’t cope with reality?

An anecdote to provide a counter-example:

I’ve always enjoyed speculative fiction. I remember that some of my first real writing assignments in grade school were typically science fictional in nature. I also remember that most of my peers really enjoyed those stories, so I would often read them aloud in front of the whole class.

In writing those stories, I wasn’t trying to escape real life – I simply had a very active imagination. I spent hours with some of my best friends re-enacting episodes from the cartoons _Silverhawks_ and _Thundercats_. I loved anything that involved advanced technology and travel through space, new worlds, alien races. I even had, for a while, an imaginary world of mice and cats, where the mice had very fast vehicles that raced through tunnels and where the cats constantly tried to capture the mice when and where they periodically emerged from one tunnel section to speed toward the next. I would tear through the neighborhood on my bike, imagining myself as one of these mice who was continually able to outwit the cats, albeit always by a slim margin. It wasn’t escapism – it was merely an imaginative kid having fun.

As I’ve grown up, though, my imagination has gotten no less active. I still find advanced technologies and magic to be endlessly fascinating. I think it revolves around natural human curiosity and ambition to see new things and do even more than we can currently. To some extent, I almost think that a fascination with speculative fiction encompasses the hopes and dreams of a better, more productive future. Could be I’m all wet, too, but I think I’m at least partially right.

Sure, I suppose there’s a bit of escapism involved in even _my_ interest in speculative fiction, but it’s certainly not my primary attraction to the genre (I don’t even think it’s particularly high on the list). Mostly, for me, it’s just fun and enjoyable and brings the kid in me out to the surface – and I suspect I’m not alone in this.

So, what is it about speculative fiction that most attracts _you_ to the genre? What do you love about it? And is there anything you hate about it?