[GUEST POST] Michael J. Martinez on Building Out Worlds, One Piece at a Time


Michael J. Martinez is a novelist, a title which still takes him by surprise now and then. He’s the author of The Daedalus Incident (one of Library Journal‘s best of SF/Fantasy for 2013) and the novella The Gravity of the Affair, now available in ebook and Audible audio. The next novel in the Daedalus series, The Enceladus Crisis, is due this spring, and there’s a third book in the trilogy that he should really finish soon. He lives in the greater New York City area with his incredible wife and amazing daughter. He blogs at http://michaeljmartinez.net and Tweets at @mikemartinez72.

Building Out Worlds, One Piece At A Time

by Michael J. Martinez

One of the things, I think, that make science fiction and fantasy so popular is the immense possibility of the settings authors create. Done right, the reader knows that they’re reading a snapshot of time within an immensely complicated, rich world. George R.R. Martin gives hints as to the massive history of Westeros in A Song of Ice and Fire, and the Star Wars Expanded Universe keeps, well…expanding. J.K. Rowling is going back to the well for more stories set in her Harry Potter universe.

When you build a setting – and you’re doing it right – the reader gets a mere taste of all the work that went into making a living, breathing world. You can’t fake that sense of depth. It’s either there or it’s not. That often means simply alluding to details, rather than spelling things out. And that leaves a lot of stuff on the cutting room floor.

The Known Worlds of The Daedalus Incident are far broader and deeper than what’s shown in the book, and even for my modest debut, readers have latched on to what’s alluded to, as well as what’s missing. And that’s awesome, because as an author, I want people invested in my worlds. I want them to wonder whatever happened to North America in Thomas Weatherby’s universe, or whether the African slave trade had been supplanted by the Venusian slave trade. I want them to ask about the power of corporate conglomerates in the 22nd century, or whether mankind had been out to Saturn or Uranus yet.

I have answers to all of those, of course. I built a pretty big sandbox to play in, and deliberately so. With The Enceladus Crisis coming out this spring – and the concluding novel in the trilogy out next winter – I continued to leverage and expand upon all that setting work, even though much of it still remains invisible. I needed to know that the setting material was already there, just waiting for me to pick up if I needed it – and ignore if I had to.

For my novella, The Gravity of the Affair (out this week!), I explored parts of the Jovian system that didn’t get much traction in The Daedalus Incident. I also knew they’d get short shrift in the sequels, but the fact of the matter was I still had that material. And I knew there were interesting stories to be told there.

Gravity was born of a question I had when writing The Daedalus Incident – where was Horatio Nelson in 1779? It seemed like I couldn’t write about the English Royal Navy of the period without a mention of England’s greatest naval hero. So if you’ve read Daedalus (and a minor spoiler alert for those who haven’t), you know that Nelson makes a minor appearance there.

But there was more to explore, both with Nelson and the moons of Jupiter. Gravity started as a short story involving Nelson and his first command – for in 1779, he was a very young post-captain of a tiny bucket of a ship. History tells us that first command was uneventful. But this is my world, and it seemed Nelson deserved better. And so he got a broader adventure that highlighted the characteristics that would make him a formidable admiral – but might also give him trouble as a very junior captain.

The beautiful thing about this is that Gravity went on to inform a piece of The Enceladus Crisis as well, because Gravity is now firmly woven into the history of the setting and it solved a little knot I had in the novel. It’s a minor mention, one that only readers of Gravity would catch, but it makes me smile knowing it’s in there.

Folks don’t have to read The Gravity of the Affair to enjoy The Daedalus Incident or The Enceladus Crisis, but I’d like to think it adds a bit more to the universe of those novels. And the novella adds one more building block I can use when writing the conclusion to the Daedalus series – and perhaps beyond.

2 thoughts on “[GUEST POST] Michael J. Martinez on Building Out Worlds, One Piece at a Time”

  1. >>The Known Worlds of The Daedalus Incident are far broader and deeper than what’s shown in the book, and even for my modest debut, readers have latched on to what’s alluded to, as well as what’s missing.

    As per our previous discussions I resemble that remark ;)

    1. You were the first, Paul. But to my surprise and delight, you weren’t the last. I’ve had a number of e-mails from folks about various aspects of the setting. A gentleman in Australia even wanted to know if I had erased his continent or not. (I haven’t actually decided yet.)

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