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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Kelly Robson and "Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach"

This hangout looks twice as exciting now that Kelly has gone on to win a Nebula in the meantime (for her novellette, A Human Stain)! It was a pleasure to have her on the show to talk about her recent novella, Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach.

Kelly started out by telling us about how critical economics was to this story. She's passionate about economics! (And so she should be; worldbuilding without economics is flimsy.) She calls it "the physics of worldbuilding." She told us that when she was first writing historical fiction, she began with medieval settings because it seemed more straightforward to manage, but that since then, she's branched out into greater challenges. In this story, the historical portion is set in Mesopotamia!

I asked Kelly about where she found the entry point for this story. She explained that she and Alyx Dellamonica had just moved to Toronto when there was an exhibit about Mesopotamia at the Royal Ontario Museum, and they went to it four or five times. One of the things she learned there was that in 2000 BCE, Mesopotamia had a complex, centrally planned economy. Kings, priests, and priestesses kept a handle on how much grain was grown and distributed.

Kelly was also excited to learn that there was a king named Shulgi whose job was killing monsters. This was an official duty of his job, and he possessed weapons designed specifically for monster-killing. As she told us, "They knew there were no monsters." She asked what it must be like for this king who had this very specific duty and had never done it. How do you deal with that problem?

The second plot thread she told us about was the idea of someone with octopus arms for legs, which she had always liked. As it turned out, the story ended up being a "coming of age" tale for an old woman, finding her purpose.

Kelly said she really wanted to work with a future Earth that could have a connection with ours, but is not hours. One of her major inspirations in designing it was the book Debt: The First 5000 Years. One of the major points it makes is that we have this idea that barter was a standardized practice, but there is really no evidence for it in the anthropological/archaeological record. The book questions the existence of this practice that has been so mythologized, and illustrates how economic systems actually work, which is far more complex. The concept of debt is central to how humans interact, even on the level of courtesy and favors. It's not just about coins but about how we live together.

In Kelly's far future, all you can buy or sell is people's time. The giant companies are professional services firms. She named the primary company in the story after an environmental consulting firm that belonged to friends of hers. Robots do all manual labor, and everything is automated. Everything in a services firm happens because people make it happen. Robots must be programmed and designed by people. The year is 2267, and in a post-scarcity environment, the only thing of value is people's time.

People do not live on the surface of the planet in this world because Kelly decided she didn't want land to be something of value. In this version of history, climate change caused humanity to retreat underground because it was too difficult to deal with the bad weather, etc. The other advantage of the underground environment to Kelly was that it was a completely managed environment and you have to manage  your own waste. In comparison, our world makes it difficult to see the consequences of all the decisions we make (as when we drop trash on the ground).

The "Manhattan of this underground environment" is a place called Bangladesh Hell. Everything is cool there, and celebrities are there. Even there, it's a managed, closed environment. The word Hell is used in the Chinese sense, meaning just that it's underground. Kelly said she chose this to play with people's expectations.

The main character, Minh, is 83 years old, and working on reclaiming the surface. When she was a toddler in Sudbury Hell (Sudbury being a real place with underground pits in Canada), the world was having pandemics in a public health catastrophe. Minh lost her legs to a form of ringworm, which is why she uses the octopus prosthetics. Her generation is called Plague Babies. All of them had horrible medical interventions as children. There was a generational exodus, when the plague babies decided they want to get away from the doctors and colonize the surface.

Another key character, Kiki, is 23 years old, from the generation referred to as Fat Babies. They are perfect tank-gestated healthy human beings. Their bodies are not giving them abnormal problems. They were birthed by the Plague Babies because of the need for more people to feed the people-time economy, but the Plague Babies are still rugged individualists who want to do it all, and don't want to give up anything to the kids. It functions as a kind of parallel to the relationship in our world between the Boomer generation and the Millennials.

Here are some questions Kelly asked, which are great questions for any worldbuilder: What does our society see of value? What history do we have? What kind of generational values do we have? Kelly remarked that you can see these kinds of things in pseudo-hipster cartoons from the Regency era as well as in our own time. Kelly notes that as a member of Generation X she feels sandwiched between the antagonistic Boomers and Millennials.

I asked Kelly whether she had done a lot of research for this story. She said, essentially, no - but in fact a lot of her research had been done before she had the story come into her mind. She read the David Graber book three times. She simply reads nonfiction for pleasure, and nonfiction informs her understanding of how the world works. Kelly describes herself as a systems thinker.

I asked Kelly about the corporation that features prominently in the novella. The time travel corporation, TERN, is essentially the antagonist here. Kelly said it was a bit of an answer back to Connie Willis' approach to time travel, which she absolutely loves but thinks is unrealistic. Kelly made sure to stipulate that you can't influence the present by changing the past.

Kelly told us that she would love to time travel. "I would die to do that," she said. "I'd cut my legs off."

In this story, time travel is just for historical research purposes.

The different dwelling-places of the future setting she creates are called Hives, Habs, and Hells. They are essentially like city-states that compete with each other in quality of life. They compete to draw people to their area. Bangladesh Hell has the cool factor. Sudbury Hell has more space. The surface habitations include Iceland, Cuzco, and Calgary.

Other economic units include universities, vocational training entities, and think tanks. TERN is a division of an evil economic entity.

There is also such a thing as a "private bank." Private banks are actually people. If you are a genius who makes a unique contribution to society, the world government will let you act like a bank, and when you die you become a think tank, or a university, for as long as your economic principal exists. She created this concept because she wanted to make sure she could show that some people do make a difference. It also gives people something to strive for. "Someday I could be a private bank..."

TERN controls time travel, and is allowed to do so by the World Economic Council. They are worried about losing this control, so they are secretive and tell lots of lies about their technology.

Minh is a fluvial geomorphologist, or someone who studies how riverbeds change. (Kelly clearly loves the name of this line of work!) Minh also does snowpack management. She lives in Calgary, which is a self-contained Ziggurat habitat. The people there are trying to live lightly and restore the bow river valley. They have been working on it for 60 years and still have much to do. Minh planted a glacial seed in the nearby mountains. They have constructed wind baffles around the mountain to guide rain to particular valleys. Now, the river flows into the city and all of the water gets used. They want to make it so that some water remains to flow onward and support another city. Minh loves rivers and loves mountains, and will die doing her work.

Kelly said that while working in Vancouver she learned a lot of ecological restoration stuff.

We recommended to her a book by Simon Winchester called The Map That Changed the World, about William Smith and how he discovered the geological formations underlying England when he was traveling around trying to help people find coal. At the time there was no systematic way of finding it, but everywhere he went, Smith saw the same 15-layered structure in the earth, and helped people to systematize what lay under the ground.

Che asked why Kelly wrote a novella when she had this much worldbuilding to work with. Kelly said, "I don't know how to write a novel." She wanted it to be the story of Minh, and focus on "The most important thing that ever happened to a person, or that a person ever did." She said it would have to be a different story to be a novel. She told us she is currently writing a sequel featuring Kiki as the main character.

By the end of the story, Minh has learned the thing she'd been missing: that people matter, and not just to the economy, but to her personally.

I asked Kelly whether she had intentionally juxtaposed the concept of monsters with the design of the time-traveling characters, and she said that she hadn't done it intentionally, though she loves the idea of animal-human chimeras, which she also used in her story, Waters of Versailles. I asked this question because of the way that Kiki changes her appearance during the story, which makes her appear more mythological (SPOILERS are coming!).

In the story, Minh and Kiki have to win the work by responding to a Request For  Proposal (RFP) for sending scientists into the past to research the rivers and inform future restoration efforts. Kiki freaks out because she's an administrative assistant and is so excited at the idea of a non-boring project. She gets on the team writing the proposal. Kelly explained that she has done a lot of proposal writing, and that "you are going to win it by offering the client something they didn't know they wanted." In this story, the amount of stuff you can transport in the time machine is limited by volume. Because Minh is small and can fold up her legs, and another of her friends on the team is a little person, they would be able to maximize the volume they can bring back. Kiki wants to be on the team but is too big (she's 6 feet tall)... so she cuts her legs off, and gets a set of high-tech goat leg prosthetics.

Paul noted that Kelly's decision not to let the past influence the future solves some problems. He asked her how she came up with her theory of time travel. Kelly said she needed the time travel to behave in such a way as to allow her to tell the story she wanted to tell. She wanted to have its effect be only on the characters' experiences rather than the world. When you go to the past, there is no way to do damage. The question is what it does to you. Thus, she chose the simplest form of time travel where there would be no paradoxes that might cause trouble. The time travel timeline collapses as soon as you leave it, but it's still an interesting thing to do. The idea is thus that you can't keep going back to the same timeline, since it's gone the moment you are no longer in it. Kelly told us that if she could go back in time, she would cure Jane Austen and let her continue writing the book she was writing, then take the manuscript home, return to the same moment, have Austen read it and continue the work. She said that after 30 or 40 trips you could have a new Austen book! However, it would be a lot like a Groundhog Day scenario, and be incredibly tedious to figure out what you needed to do for the desired result.

Thank you so much for coming on the show, Kelly! It was a fascinating discussion. Everyone look out for Kelly's sequel to this story (which she's currently drafting), called, "Time, Trouble, and the Lucky Peach."

Today, Dive into Worldbuilding meets at 4pm Pacific to discuss Auguries and Predicting the Future. I I hope you can join us!


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Building Back Histories

This topic is another one I thought would be important for any list of basic worldbuilding topics. Essentially, it amounts to, "How did we get to where we are?"

When we are working on telling a story, the question of the past often springs up. Sometimes, we want to work on it before we even get started. Sometimes, we create an elaborate account of the back history of a story and none of it appears directly in the story itself.

Keep in mind, though, that nothing you do to understand back history is ever wasted work, because the things we know change the words we use when we write a story. Chances are, the words you use will reflect your understanding of the back history even if you aren't explaining it.

I asked each of the discussants about experiences they had with creating back history for their stories. 

Kat told us that she had explored one key event, what she called "a catalyzing thing in culture," which helped her with a story about a near-future Earth. She'd gotten stuck in the front-story because she didn't have enough information about what had happened earlier. Ethnography and history are important so that the pieces of your front story can fit together, and make sense in relation to each other.

Morgan said she likes to look at something in her front story and try to explain how she got here. She asks: "Why can't I explain it? Do I dislike what it [background] would have to be? Does it not make sense?" She says it's very easy to get caught up in a character's backstory. Once you know the background, what does it change? Can you use background to make your story make sense and be believable?

Cliff told us that backstory is like scaffolding you use to build your story, and then you take it down. Tolkien did it for his own enjoyment. Cliff himself wants to have the minimum scaffolding required to build. He spent time with his novel universe "bouncing around" for years, figuring out what was going on with the people at the top of society, but it never worked. Then he started working with the people at the bottom, and the story came alive. He says when he's working with a short story, he usually starts with an image, and has to figure out what it means. Backstory fills itself in as he figures this out.

Kat made an important point, which is that sometimes you can get so much data in your head that it's hard to set it aside to write the story. There is a danger in getting too enraptured by worldbuilding.

Here are a few basic questions to ask:

How did this character get here? Why is the character motivated this way? What are the background conditions needed for the story to work? 

Cliff is opposed to "killing momentum" by asking too many questions.

How much do you really need to know? The answer to that is very individual. Morgan feels she needs to know more, even though all the research may not go into the story.

How relevant is the backstory? How important is it that we understand why things work the way they do?

Kat told us about her sensitivity reading work. She explained that she has seen thousands of words invested in a work by people who have never asked about the premises or setup of the story. When it comes to critical social underpinnings (like for example racism and sexism), maybe some stories don't need to be told if the writer doesn't understand the context in a nuanced way.

I personally made a number of back history extrapolations once I decided that my Varin world was going to be racially diverse. I had to find a way to explain why people who lived underground, and all on the same continent, would show variations in appearance. This led me to an extensive backstory about the people's arrival in this location from another place where they had been spread across a much larger geographic area, but united by a shared religion.

As Kat remarked, monocultures shouldn't be considered forbidden, but we need to understand why non-diverse places are not diverse. Some cultures have grown up in isolation, like indigenous groups before contact with outsiders. Even in a monoculture group, there will be subgroups, however. Think about what kind of subtle differences might seem important in that context. 

In Europe, when Catholicism was widespread, there were all sorts of schisms and disagreements, heresies, etc. There will always be complexity in human groups. Think about the places where people will identify differences. Any time a single social group contains only individuals who run entirely true-to-type, you will have a problem with lack of realism.

Several of our discussants recommended this article: Race: The Original Sin of the Fantasy Genre. It brings up really important issues to consider when embarking upon a fantasy project.

Any time you have more than one character, you need to have variation. Character backstory is a bridge to worldbuilding. Consider the relationship between a character's personal history and the history of their world; the two are intertwined.

We talked a bit about naming. When you have characters in a story, in general people tell you to have their names start with different letters... but what if they don't, because their identities were established in a different story and now they have met? Kate remarked that in some cultures (read: America and others), people with the same name get numbered. Some cultures distinguish between two people of the same name with epithets like "the unready" or "kinslayer," etc. We don't tend to see quite as many epithets in science fiction as fantasy, but there's no reason a writer couldn't use them. 

You could consider providing family trees for the characters in your book, if it helps to clarify.

Putting together timelines can be a helpful technique. "How long ago did it happen" is a question whose answer can vary depending on which story you are writing at the time, and where it falls on the world's timeline. Story X can be 30 years before story Y, while story Z is 25 years before story Y, which makes it five years after Story X. These relations can be important to track.

Kat asked whether she would need to change her timelines due to cultural characteristics (possibly). Different groups track time in different ways, and create different structures to organize events. 

Kat recommended the Father Brown Mysteries, because they have a lot of amazing detail about Catholic histories. They provide enough information for people who don't know the history, and not too much for people who already do know that history.

It's always a good idea to think through what we do or don't need to include. Basing these decisions on our sense of who constitutes our audience can be critical.

Ask: What does your character care about? How much do they care about it? How does this affect the actions and the plot? How deeply in sync is this person with their surrounding culture, and why?

Thank you to everyone who participated in this discussion. I hope to see you at Dive into Worldbuilding next Tuesday at 4pm Pacific!


Monday, May 14, 2018

Henry Lien and Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword

It was absolutely fabulous to have Henry Lien back on the show! I'm excited to see the world of Pearl rolling out in novel form after we had such a great discussion about his story, "Pearl Rehabilitative Colony for Ungrateful Daughters," which appeared in Asimov's in 2013.

Henry joined us to talk about his new novel, Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword, which he describes as a direct sequel to the previous story.

The world of Pearl is a secondary world in which Henry invented an art-sport that combines figure skating with kung fu. He first developed it at Clarion when instructed by Chuck Palahniuk. As an exercise in empathy and attempting to write something outside his own experience, he tried to enter the world of teenage girls, and examine girl-girl dynamics in a high-pressure setting, with talented but misbehaving girls prepping for an exam for an Academy.

The new book has been summarized by some as "Harry Potter meets Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon on Ice," but is a lot deeper and more complex than that description would suggest. It deals with issues of immigration and crossing cultures even as it has tons of fun with its characters and their sport. The main character is a newcomer to a place that in her eyes appears to be more culturally advanced. Henry examines how one's identity splits during the journey of immigration.

This story is set in a fantasy world very different from ones we have seen before, so that we don't ever know quite what to expect. It draws cultural markers from China, Taiwan, and Japan, and uses elements of the region's history, including interactions between the different cultures. Henry said one of his goals was to create a world where you feel like you know it but when you engange in it in detail, it's super-different from ours.

In Peasprout Chen's world, tabloid headlines are delivered by birds in a delightfully innovative way. This world uses Chinese characters, which can be written in the grass script style as a continuous line. Henry noticed that his birds will follow him around, so he decided that he would have someone in the city skate the pattern of the characters on the ground while birds follow them overhead, essentially resulting in the birds tracing calligraphy in the sky. Grass-style calligraphy, which is an actual cultural thing, and actual bird behavior from our world, combine to create a completely alien result. In this way, Henry uses familiar building blocks to create a world that is unique.

We asked him how becoming a bird person changed him. This is a very sweet story! Henry told us about how he had rescued the birds, all of them small parrots. He calls them "an alien race that we share this Earth with." Birds are very sensitive to the environment, and their triggers are consistent. He compared some of their reactions to PTSD reactions. They are very idiosyncratic. Henry said, "It made me learn to love something I don't fully understand." You can appreciate the nooks and crannies even if you can't see the whole thing. 

Kat remarked that she's discovered a surprising number of figure-skating writers and editors that she hadn't previously heard about. 

Henry said that when he was researching figure skating and kung fu, he discovered that they have three characteristics in common: each is intense, lyrical, and punishing. Injury is always waiting for you, and can shut you down for weeks. There's a lot of drama in these sports that can be very appealing to writers.  The Olympics features brutal dramatic judgment where the athlete trains for four years to perform for two minutes, during which any error is catastrophic. Stakes are high, and the focus on age and performance is intense.

Henry talked about his own experience studying wushu, and explained that he came into classes with "hubris" based on his own general fitness and how strong the other people in the class looked. He made it quite clear that he'd been wrong about this! His 19-year-old lithe partner would "kick my butt every week." He feels that both figure skating and wushu reward the ways that women's bodies move.

The setting of Peasprout Chen is a city made of a non-ice substance called pearl. The fact that everything is made of pearl means that parkour can also be woven in.

He told us a bit about the backstory of the novel. There is the mainland empire of Shin which is kind of like China but not China; there is the island of Pearl which is kind of like Taiwan but not Taiwan, and then the land of Eda in the background which is kind of like Japan but not Japan. In this world, the male population of Pearl was destroyed in a war. A failed courtesan from Shin fled to Pearl and teamed up with an older woman famed for her ugliness. This older woman had discovered a substance that could be manipulated to make ice-like pearl. Together they created the city, and the courtesan invented the sport of Wu Liu to allow them to turn their disadvantages into strengths. The name "wu liu" combines the first half of "wu shu" (kung fu) with the second half of "liu ping" (figure skating.)

Henry put special emphasis on the idea of turning everything upside-down. We are told that our bodies and our identities are disadvantages, but those things should be turned upside down and turned into advantages.

On Pearl, there are no wheels, and no shoes. Dragging things around is considered primitive. Everyone learns to skate as soon as they can walk. The people are xenophobic and consider the outside world barbaric.

Cliff observed that if you were kicking people with blades, that would be cool for war but for a sport would lead to some pretty serious injuries. Henry agreed and said that there is always the threat of real danger with this sport.

Henry explained that he loves rules. School is an environment girdled all around with rules to keep people from misbehaving, so it's a setting he loves to work in. Students at the wu liu school are not allowed to do any moves outside of class, or they will forfeit their next examination. This is a key element of the plot of Peasprout Chen

In particular, he says he wanted a fantasy world with no magic. George R. R. Martin consulted with him on aspects of it. Everything is grounded in real world experience, including the constant threat of injury that has grave consequences for the students. Even a bad wrist can knock you out. Henry himself got injured at one point during his training because he had become frustrated when another student did a kick the first time. Henry tried the same jump and tore his hamstring; he said it looked like someone had cut him. 

Danger creates good stories. Ambition is a characteristic required by the sport.

Henry quoted a line from Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell: "Don't talk to me about magic. It's like everything else: full of setbacks and disappointments." If this is the way your work seems, then whenever you achieve something, it feels like a huge accomplishment! Peasprout Chen's life is full of cultural landmines and danger, but when she does something cool, we cheer.

I asked Henry what elements of the world had been developed between the initial Asimov's story and this novel. He said a lot of it was what he had developed with George R. R. Martin. He took a look at the structures that made the society and the city work, like food delivery, money and insurance. You need to understand these mundane things.

"If pigs could fly, bacon would be expensive."

Thus, it's important to explore the mundane consequences of fantasy things. How do people tell time? How are they called to class? How would people of their technology and sensibility go about building things?

Henry said he'd ended up with a 100-page encyclopedia, but that it was joyful to write. He knows that at dusk, when the sun goes down, the rich go home and the poor take public transport, while kids go fare-jumping by hanging on the back of a tram. Little things in this world, he explains, are very real to him. After writing in it so much and being "a hermit" in his habits, he feels he knows the world of Pearl better than ours.

If people have glasses, where are they manufactured? If there's no green space, how is food distributed?

Henry told us about his agent, Tina DuBois, and his editor, Tiffany Liau, both of whom he greatly admires. They helped him to think hard about questioning the usual generalizations, like "girls are more relational." This is commonly claimed, but is not universal. Not every girl wants that out of life. There are social forces that cause women to need to figure each other out, but some still say, "I'm busy here." This is the case for Peasprout Chen. Henry said he thought very hard about her because she resists relationships, and is not really ready for them. She decides her own place in her world.

Henry says he's very grateful to the people who nurtured and inspired him in his writing process, and most of them are women. They helped him portray the characters realistically, with variety and intensity.

Tiffany Liau, Henry says, is a genius with plotting. She had zero problem with the all-Asian cast with some LGBT characters; she said, "Let's make it a page-turner." Henry believes that the style of an editor can be as distinct as that of a writer, and put a unique stamp on the writing.

He was inspired in part by Kelly Link, because she writes across genres and for different ages. She helped him perceive genres as constructs with porous borders. Henry said that if you don't impose those limits on yourself, the world might not be as resistant as you think. The language can be beautiful even in a book for young people, and you shouldn't dumb it down.

Tina DuBois, Henry's agent, was the one who said, "Do you not realize what's special about this? The star is the voice, the main character." Henry explained that he hadn't been able to realize this because the character was too close to him, which made it hard to see. He also said that Kelly Link had given him some really important encouragement when he finished his first three chapters.

Our discussant, Sally, remarked that it wouldn't be right if a figure skating plot did not include LGBT characters. Henry said it's possible to think of figure skating as a non-binary sport, given that it requires both grace and strength. It draws a diversity of athletes who each approach this balance in a different way. He noted that even in point-based sports like basketball, fans still talk about the grace of the athletes, and deeply appreciate it.

Kat suggested that people who are less inclined to mix grace with brutal intensity will move to sports other than figure skating. There's no padding for people who are learning the beginner jumps. Only if you get to a very advanced level will they put the skaters on a rig to help them with spectacular jumps.

Henry said that he never got over how alien figure skating felt. It seemed an arbitrary idea for a sport, to him, and the experts in it seemed they were from another planet.

Cliff asked Henry if he felt he was a substantially different person after writing Peasprout Chen. Henry said, essentially, no. He said that people sometimes think their lives will begin once they publish their first novel, but it hasn't happened to him. There are gradations of change, perhaps, but he can't see it. He hates the promotional part of being a debut novelist, and says he's always doing things outside his comfort zone.

He said the most amazing thing that had happened with his debut involved a song he had written for New Year's celebrations at the Academy in the book. He researched, and managed to learn the Apple Garage Band suite of Chinese instruments in order to compose the song. Then, Idina Menzel sang it with him at his launch party! He rented a small taiko drum so he would have something to do with his hands, learned to drum for 10 straight hours before the launch party, and played it while they sang.

Henry says he's just finished Book 2 of the series, which he calls "My favorite book of all time." It's called Peasprout Chen, Future Champion of the Battlebands. He's currently working on Book 3.

Henry, thank you so much for coming on the show! This world sounds like it's expanded and developed in truly amazing ways, and everyone should go check out Peasprout Chen, Future Legend of Skate and Sword.

Tomorrow, May 15, 2018, at 4:00pm Pacific, we'll be joined on the show by author Kelly Robson, who will be talking about her climate-change and time-travel mixing novella, "Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach." I hope you can join us!


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Exploring the Impact and Implications of Your Speculative Concept

So this session, with a very fancy title, is basically about what happens after you have a really cool speculative idea. You got an idea for a gadget, or for a magic power, or for a fundamental change in physics, or, or, or... There are potentially an infinite number of such ideas, but once you've decided to create a world with one of these features, what comes next? How do you figure out what life in a world with magic, or life in a world with this unique technology, would be like? How far would the impact of that change spread, and what kinds of different things might it influence?

These are important questions to ask, but we established one caveat before we dived into the topic, which is: you don't actually need to explore these questions in incredible depth in order for your story to succeed. We talked about Harry Potter, where people act as though magic has always been around, and yet muggle society (and even, arguably, wizarding society) is surprisingly un-influenced by it. You need to understand enough for the story to work. How much is too much? Hard to know. But if you do too little of this, you may leave some opportunities off the table.

Che remarked, about urban fantasy, "Does everyone knows vampires and werewolves exist? Or is it a secret? How does it stay secret?"

What are the parameters of your speculative phenomenon? Do they have legal implications?

I recommended Soulless by Gail Carriger because it demonstrates a lot of great thinking about the social consequences of having vampires and werewolves integrated into British society. The social details here are quite delightful. Che recommends Anno Dracula by Kim Newman, with a different view of what would happen if Dracula took over England and changed it. One of the details she mentioned was a scene with a live pig with a spigot in its neck, from which vampires would drink the blood. She also mentioned that in this book, young vampires are not supernaturally strong, and that it takes a long time for them to develop their strength. Variation within a group like this is important.

Keep in mind that it's relatively easy to think through the surface details of something like this, and much harder to think about the deep underpinnings of it, including its inception, history, and large-scale influences on society.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin is a stellar example of deep worldbuilding, where the implications of her orogenic magic are explored on a lot of levels. One of the most interesting aspects about it is how she portrays the powerful orogenes as persecuted minorities.

Morgan said that if you have an introduced social group, you need to figure out whether they are dominant or not in society. You also need to know if they are publicly visible or publicly acknowledged.

How does the thing you've invented change physical infrastructure? Even a special dominant social group can change physical infrastructure, because furniture and architecture are designed with the dominant group's needs in mind.

Kate pointed out that when you have TV shows where white people are being oppressed, they  never seem to go to the minorities on the show for advice on how to cope with oppression.

The question of how you live under oppression is one that people tend not to engage with in much depth. Even the X-Men world doesn't dig deep into the question.

These kinds of questions deserve TIME. Particularly if you are working in a complex, socially realistic world, give yourself the time to muse about these details. Sometimes getting all the complexity in will take several drafts. If you give it enough time and care, you can get a cool feeling of immersion.

Of course, you don't need to have complexity for enjoyment. But there's a difference between a light-hearted conceit and a phenomenon deeply integrated into its world.

Ann Leckie's universe is extremely complex. In general, she doesn't ever stop out of the action to explain things. However, she makes the necessary information available to readers when it is maximally relevant. This is a really good technique to use (and similar to what I do).

Whenever you have a world that is super-complex, you'll run into the problem of how to control it. One really useful tool for controlling world information is Point of View. It's very helpful if we only need to understand what one person understands (particularly so, since we are One Person). Multiple point of view can add to this in helpful ways without letting the entirety of the world weigh down the narrative.

Outsider perspectives on a world are also helpful at times because outsiders are allowed to ask questions and struggle with comprehending things. Ann Leckie's character, Breq, is uniquely positioned as a point of view character because she is both on top and on the bottom. She is the instrument of the Radchaai's power, and therefore has power over people, yet is a piece of nonhuman equipment to them. When a character is considered harmless, or as in Breq's case, totally under control, people may not be careful about what they say in her presence.

Kate recommended the book Halfway Human by Carolyn Ives Gilman for an example of a character who is an insider and an outsider at the same time... and then ends up having to be the go-between for someone who is even further outside. The consequences of this are complex and interesting.

Cliff mentioned how in the Hunger Games, it's helpful to readers how Katniss' tight point of view changes over the course of the story. She starts as the lowest group, an outsider to Capital society, and then gains some status by Book 2 and has to cope with its consequences because she retains her class consciousness. She has real power against the Powers That Be, but it is still limited in key ways.

I mentioned how my world of Varin has several different speculative features, each of which has its own set of consequences. People there have lived underground for so long that when they find themselves on the surface, they feel more comfortable at night than in the daytime. The reason for this is that they can comprehend the idea of darkness overhead, and even darkness with little lights in it (because of the wysps).

Cliff mentioned that Vernor Vinge's A Deepness in the Sky has sentient spiders, and because the sun dims and brightens, underground is safety. This isn't just a practical concern but also feeds into the symbolic understanding of a statue that looks like it's digging. The statue is actually reaching downward for comfort, and represents peace.

I mentioned The Shifter by Janice Hardy as a great example of thorough exploration of a speculative concept. In this world, the only magic is healing magic, and healers pull pain out of the people they heal into their own bodies. Then they must push it out into a magical metal before it hurts them. When she was designing the world, she told me about how she wanted magic users to be strong and burly, rather than bookish... so the sorcerers are the metal-workers. The concept of healing magic and metal used to store pain grew a lot, though, into a whole economic system. Once the pain is in the metal, there is demand to use the metal for weapons that can throw that pain at others. So there starts to be a drive for war, because the wounds of war provide fuel for the weapons needed to win it. It's fascinating and troubling.

Dune also has really extensive consideration of the impacts of Spice, which keeps you young, lets you fold space, and gives you superpowers.

As you expand a concept and explore its implications, keeping sense-making and consistency are very important.

Cliff mentioned how Star Trek transporter technology should have had much greater impacts than it did. Why not use a replicator for babies? Can the transporter fix DNA and keep people from growing old? If you run into the people of the phage, why can't you replicate organs rather than stealing them?

As we can see with Harry Potter and Star Trek, underpinnings are not necessary for you to have a very successful story! But sometimes it bothers readers when things have not been thought through. Sometimes you can run into inconsistencies in sequels and prequels.

Thank you very much to everyone who participated in this discussion! Today, Dive into Worldbuilding meets at 4pm Pacific to discuss Building Back Histories. I hope you can join us!