I had all kinds of amazing ideas for this blog post, but those were superseded by an urgent need to talk about how NOT to build a fantasy or Sci Fi world. Consider this a PSA. A rambling, not terribly informative PSA.
I was recently reminiscing with a friend over a high school version of Othello we saw years ago. Maybe “reminiscing” isn’t the right word. “Eviscerating” probably fits better. The innocent “hey, do you remember…” dissolved into me ranting about the utter lack of respect for the cadence of the verse and the pronunciation of the words (But lo, what emPHAsis from yonder, wrong sylLAble breaks?).
There were also a number of random pelvic thrusts. Have you ever run into an out-of-the-blue hip gyration? It’s baffling. I get that Othello contains both insinuations and overt accusations of adultery. I do. Apparently the cast was also clued in to this, but they weren’t sure exactly which words were naughty, because the final product looked a lot like this:
“Had it pleas’d Heaven
To try me with affliction, had they rain’d
All kind of sores and shames on my bare head,
Steep’d me in poverty to the very lips,
Given to captivity me and my utmost hopes (pelvic thrust)
I should have found in some place of my soul
A drop of patience (pelvic thrust)”
-Shakespeare, Othello (Pelvic thrusts are mine. Well, not mine, mine.)
Maybe we just saw the production on an off night, which would explain the director sticking his head around the scrim and stage-whispering: “Psssst: ACT!” a few times. Regardless, I raved about this for fifteen minutes, after which my friend chimed in with, “Yeah, and I can’t believe it was set in space!”
I have a vague recollection of geometrical set pieces, large headdresses and silver and purple lamé clothing. And this brings me to my point – which should come as a relief if you’re still reading. I had no idea this Othello was set in space. None. What was there to clue me in? From what I could tell, it was set in a kingdom that adored Euclid, was full of women with strong necks, and had a keen desire to show metal how easily it could be mastered and turned into ill-fitting pantsuits. That could be anywhere, anytime. It could be happening in your home town right now! Though I hope it’s not, because pantsuits are not flattering.
I’m not saying that Iago should have come out with a giant “Saturn or Bust” bumper sticker on the side of a suitcase. I don’t love the obvious info-dump. If more than half of the first chapters of a Sci Fi or fantasy novel describe the rules, history and minutiae of the world outside the immediate context of the characters, I zone out. But I also don’t care for window-dressing worlds, stories that could easily exist here and now but happen to be in space!, or underground!, or on an Earth where the sun has set permanently and humans are slaves to vampires decadently living out their final decades as the planet cools (!...wait, that actually sounds sweet).
There has to be a balance but, more importantly, the environment – this world that the author takes so much time and thought to create – has to impact the characters and plot. Ilona Andrews is someone(s) I often point out to new authors when showing them how to create a dramatically different world. In their Kate Daniels series, paranormal and mythical creatures exist, but that element isn’t what makes that world unique from the real world. Magic battles with technology and the two ebb and flow erratically. Which of the two is “up” at any given time is integral to the story. Characters can go from powerful to frail, or sane to mad during these shifts. Long distance communication can be instantaneous one moment, and impossible the next. This results in conflict and drama and peril, oh my!
So, I guess what I’m saying is that, if you’re going to festoon your world in triangles, those triangles had better be important, not just pretty, pointy things. Also, please keep your ill-timed pelvic-thrusts to yourself.*