Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Guest Post: The Worker Prince, Worldbuilding & The Clashes of Culture by Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Please everyone welcome Bryan Thomas Schmidt, whom I met through his #SFFWRTCHT chat on Twitter. His debut novel, The Worker Prince, just came out. I asked him to consider his novel from a TTYU point of view, so here he is!

The Worker Prince, Worldbuilding & The Clashes of Culture

So often when we think of culture, we think of exotic places like Africa or the Amazon jungles. It’s easy in the midst of our own world to forget that culture exists all around us and is most often made up of many smaller subcultures along the way. To create a realistic world, I think it’s very important to examine various aspects that make up the culture and subcultures of your world. It not only creates believability for readers, but it creates a layered world in which to work with plot and characters, providing many different options to use in making the characters and plot multi-layered as well.

Juliette invited me to come here and talk about the culture building of the worlds I created for my Davi Rhii Saga, Book 1 of which, The Worker Prince, released October 4th. In creating the Borali Solar System, I had a set of thirteen planets dominated by humans who had colonized from Earth and overrun the native species. However, these native species had taken on various roles within the large society of the system, so aspects of how those cultures interacted became important to the story.

In The Worker Prince societies, as with many societies we know here on Earth, religion and politics play a major role. In fact, such a major role, they predominate as cultural aspects of the story so we’ll look at them first.

There are two major religions amongst the humans who predominate: Evangelical Christianity and a mainstream polytheism mixing Christianity, Islam, Hindu and other beliefs which is really more secular than sacred in focus. The Evangelical Vertullians are mocked for their simple blind faith in one Superior Being while the Polytheistic Boralians are regarded as unfocused and uncommitted by the Vertullians because their religion is very liberally practiced and defined. The result are two separate cultures who look at the world very differently in terms of faith. For one, it is foundational and a part of their every day thinking, a lifestyle. For another it’s something they practice when necessary or according to tradition. The Boralians think the Vertullians’ idea of a single God is silly because Boralian gods serve men. They have multiple gods for multiple needs who are prayed to or honored in tribute when men need something from them. For the Vertullians, the idea of gods who are not superior to man but serve him is silly and hardly worth considering. Such contrasting ideas, of course, lead to conflict.

The politics are also complicated. First, you have traditions in which a High Lord Councilor makes most major decisions, announcing them to the Council as needed out of respect but assuming they will back him because they always do. Second, you have laws, which the people expect to be practiced, wherein the Council must approve the decisions. When the Council actually starts to act on the people’s wishes, conflict develops. This, too, is a culture clash. Just as ideologies of the Left clash with those of the Right in our country, these two different ideas of how government should function, whom it serves and what its purpose is creates a cultural divide.

But humans are not the only inhabitants of the solar system. There are a number of alien species who also come into play. You have the Andorians, who have found peace with being conquered by dedicating themselves to serving their conquerors as servants, a step up from the forced slavery of the Vertullian workers. Manaen, High Lord Councilor’s major domo, represents them in the story. You have the Tertullians and Lhamors, the first who resemble humans except for their dark orange-tinted skin and purple eyes. The second with four arms and reptilian features whose accents require most of them to use electronic translators to be understood by humans. The strangeness of the Lhamors marginalizes them. How they talk and act and walk and think is immediately seen as separate just by appeareance whereas some Tertullians, like the lead character’s friend Yao, are able to blend in more readily and take a larger role in society. In this case, while the cultures of all three races are different, appearances wind up creating another type of separating culture clash that separates them even before those factors are considered.
Using these various attitudes and ideologies, conflict is created in the story which resembles conflicts in our own daily existence, making the world seem real and plausible to us. The various assumptions employed serve purposes we are familiar with, whether we agree with them or hold them ourselves or not. And thus, the story becomes one that feels familiar and connects with our own understandings of cultural and societal concerns. It also builds characters whom we can identify with, whether like us or resembling someone we know, because the cultures these characters embrace and reject affect their interactions with each other in realistic ways.

These are just a few examples of how I used culture to invest my world with familiarity and realness for readers in writing “The Worker Prince.” Perhaps you can employ similar ideas in your own writing. What are some techniques you’ve used to create cultural interactions?

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the newly released space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog. He'll be blog touring all this month, and reviewed tomorrow at Jaleta Clegg's blog.