MIND MELD: The Rules of Worldbuilding

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In fiction, especially Fantasy, SF, and the like, part of the joy of reading is the sometimes vast, and complicated, worlds that authors create. However, there are certain “rules” that seem to apply to this process, and io9 recently published an article called 7 Deadly Sins of Worldbuilding, which made me wonder what authors and readers thought about the subject, what kind of “rules” they use in their writing, and also what they like to see in their reading. So I asked them:

Q: When you write, are there any particular “rules” you follow in your worldbuilding? What do you consider a “sin” in worldbuilding? For readers and authors, what do you like to see in regards to worldbuilding in your reading, and what do you consider a deal breaker? What worlds have captured your imagination more than others?

Here’s what they said…

Ingrid Jonach
Ingrid Jonach is the author of the young adult sci-fi romance novel When the World was Flat (and we were in love), published by Strange Chemistry.
Since graduating from university with a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Writing (Hons) in 2005, Ingrid has worked as a journalist and in public relations, as well as for the Australian Government. Find out more at www.ingridjonach.com.


For me, worldbuilding has to add to the narrative. For example, there is no point in telling me the ins-and-outs of a new plant species unless it is eaten or used for medicinal purposes in the story. Likewise, there is no need to spend ten pages explaining a piece of technology if it is never mentioned again.

My young adult novel When the World was Flat (and we were in love) is set in our world, but – at the risk of sharing spoilers – it also includes an alternate world with a re-imagined history. This alternate world is the catalyst for the relationship between the two main characters and all of the worldbuilding is connected to the events in the story.

My work-in-progress (WIP) goes one step further than When the World was Flat (and we were in love), as it is set in a world with a re-imagined history. This means breaking the rules of our current world (e.g. everyone eats ice-cream three times a day instead of just for dessert), but with good reason (e.g. the world is run by kids). I promise that is not the premise of my WIP!

I loved the worldbuilding in the Forest of Hands and Teeth trilogy by Carrie Ryan, because it showed the separation of societies in a post apocalyptic world by distance and therefore culture. They even have different names for the zombies in each region, e.g. the Unconsecrated, Mudo and Plague Rats.
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BOOK REVIEW: Crux by Ramez Naam

REVIEW SUMMARY: Frighteningly plausible cyberpunk.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Following the events of the first book, Kaden Lane is on the run with bounty hunters in hot pursuit. Sam, having gone rogue, has finally found inner peace in the presence of special children born with Nexus connection. The Post-Human Liberation Front has found a way to weaponize Nexus in a frightening way and the United States government is taking drastic steps to fight such emerging risks.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Expands on the foundation of the original in a big way; continued character development; lots of character diversity; super-cool tech; moral ambiguity; intense action; lays the groundwork for future entries without coming across as filler.
CONS: A lessened presence of the Buddhism I found so cool and interesting in the first novel.
BOTTOM LINE: A worthy sequel that reads like a mash-up of Michael Crichton and Tom Clancy, Naam’s cyberpunk thriller is even better than the original.
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[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

We asked this week’s panelists…

Q: What are some of the most overdone tropes and stereotypes in SF/F? What are some of the most useful? What are some of the most damaging?

Here’s what they said…

Kameron Hurley
Kameron Hurley is an award-winning, Nebula nominated author. Her personal and professional exploits have taken her all around the world. Visit kameronhurley.com for details on upcoming projects, short fiction, and meditations on the writing life.

Tropes are a funny thing. To some extent, knowing and expecting what’s going to happen next in a story – anticipating a particular structure and story elements – is why we’re drawn to specific genres and sub-genres. Many romance readers are looking for boy meets girl, boy loses girl (or girl loses boy) but they happily (and sexily) get together at the end. Hard SF readers may be reading for a Big Idea and exploring how it changes our society, but be less interested in the characters moving that big idea around on the stage. Urban Fantasy readers may be looking for tough – but vulnerable! – heroines put into paranormal situations that may seem harrowing, but all work out at the end. And in Epic Fantasy, many still expect the White Hats (Stark white!) to Save the World.
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Here is the the cover art and synopsis of the upcoming novel Crux by Ramez Naam, sequel to Nexus.

[Click here for a larger version of the cover art.]

Here’s the synopsis:

Six months have passed since the release of Nexus 5. The world is a different, more dangerous place.

In the United States, the terrorists – or freedom fighters – of the Post-Human Liberation Front use Nexus to turn men and women into human time bombs aimed at the President and his allies. In Washington DC, a government scientist, secretly addicted to Nexus, uncovers more than he wants to know about the forces behind the assassinations, and finds himself in a maze with no way out.

In Thailand, Samantha Cataranes has found peace and contentment with a group of children born with Nexus in their brains. But when forces threaten to tear her new family apart, Sam will stop at absolutely nothing to protect the ones she holds dear.

In Vietnam, Kade and Feng are on the run from bounty hunters seeking the price on Kade’s head, from the CIA, and from forces that want to use the back door Kade has built into Nexus 5. Kade knows he must stop the terrorists misusing Nexus before they ignite a global war between human and posthuman. But to do so, he’ll need to stay alive and ahead of his pursuers.

And in Shanghai, a posthuman child named Ling Shu will go to dangerous and explosive lengths to free her uploaded mother from the grip of Chinese authorities.

The first blows in the war between human and posthuman have been struck. The world will never be the same.

File Under: Science Fiction [ Upgraded | Closer Than You Think | Upload | Civil War ]

Sound interesting? Read on to see how you can win an advanced ready copy of your very own!
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Science fiction fans see so much poor original SciFi emerging from Hollywood that the standard rallying cry has become “Hey! Look to the pages of written science fiction!”

Sometimes Hollywood listens.

The screen rights for Ramez Naam’s science fiction nanotech thriller, Nexus, have been acquired by Paramount Pictures.

Nexus is a near-future thriller about an experimental nano-drug than can link human minds together. Such a powerful technology can be used for good and evil, as the young scientists protagonist learns when he becomes embroiled in international espionage.

For more insight into the ideas behind Nexus, check out Ramez’s guest post on The Science of Nexus and
Brenda Cooper’s interview with the author.

[via Deadline via io9]

BOOK REVIEW: Nexus by Ramez Naam

REVIEW SUMMARY: Ramez Naam presents an interesting world and characters 30 years hence strongly grounded in the real life research and speculation he was hitherto best known for.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In the mid 21st century, a powerful combination of nanotech, software and drugs threatens to catapult its creator into forbidden realms of transhumanism.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Interesting premise and extrapolation of technology and social developments of same.
CONS: Some of the thriller elements feel a bit over-the-top. Some first novel clunkiness in narrative.
BOTTOM LINE: An interesting and intriguing fiction debut from a non fiction pioneer in bio-technological issues.
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I’m glad to be back guest-posting at SF signal.  This time, I’m interviewing Ramez Naam about his new novel, Nexus, out from Angry Robot Books on December 18th.  Full disclosure: I’ve already read this book twice even though most of you haven’t been able to get it yet. I met Ramez at a Seattle-area gathering of futurists the day that Wings of Creation came out, so maybe it was destiny that we would both stay loosely connected in the fabulous Seattle ecosystem of authors, futurists, and many of us who are both.

So here is my conversation with Ramez:


BRENDA COOPER: I’m very pleased to see Nexus becoming a real book.  Ever since I read an early manuscript draft, I’ve been excited about the possibility that more people would be able to read this. So for starters, congratulations.

RAMEZ NAAM: Thank you!

BC: For any fans or followers of SF Signal, this really is a must-read book.  Most trans-humanist fiction is phenomenally interesting for techno geeks like me, but Nexus is a uniquely human and character driven thriller as well as a brilliant rendering of a believable future.  It should interest fans of Michael Crichton, Greg Bear, David Brin, or Charlie Stross alike.

I’d like to start with a question about the genesis of one of the main characters.  Kade is a near-perfect archetype of the starry-eyed and idealistic young men and women who work in tech and science.  What models did you use when you created him?

RN: *Laughs*  Well, I have to confess to one of the great sins of writing, in that there’s at least a little bit of me in Kade, or maybe me as I was when I was younger.  He’s a lot smarter than I am, but probably more naïve and more awkward.  But I really wanted to have a protagonist who, aside from being extremely bright, was really just an everyman.  He’s never been shot at before. He had a normal childhood.  He’s thrown into situations way beyond his depths, and he has to figure out both how to cope with the stress of people trying to kill him, and how to figure out what the morally right thing to do is when he’s caught between a rock and a hard place.

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[GUEST POST] Ramez Naam on The Science of “Nexus”


Ramez Naam is a professional technologist, and was involved in the development of Microsoft Internet Explorer and Outlook. He was the CEO of Apex Nanotechnologies, a company involved in developing nanotechnology research software before returning to Microsoft. He holds a seat on the advisory board of the Institute for Accelerating Change, is a member of the World Future Society, a Senior Associate of the Foresight Institute, and is a fellow of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. He is the recipient of the 2005 HG Wells Award for Contributions to Transhumanism, awarded by the World Transhumanist Association. Nexus, his first novel, is available in trade paperback the US and Canada on December 18th and in ebook format worldwide on the same day. It will be published in paperback in the UK on January 3rd.

The Science of “NEXUS” by Ramez Naam

Nexus is a work of fiction. But to the best of my abilities, the science described in the science fiction is fully accurate. While the idea of a technology like the Nexus drug that allows people to communicate mind-to-mind may seem far-fetched, precursors of that technology are here today.
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