Thursday, May 22, 2008

Lodged at John Mason

I like all the people I know who have come or are coming through John Mason school (age range of set: 15-42). And I liked the ones I met there today when I ran a couple of workshops in the library learning resource centre.

The do was arranged by Mark Thornton from Mostly Books and the librarian learning resource centrearian – all I had to do was turn up, while Mark lurked at the back and sold books in the break. And so I talked about worldbuilding in science fiction – not (necessarily) creating a whole new planet, but a background, a setting, that all the characters will consider totally normal but which has to be explained subtly to the reader. What, your soul doesn’t follow you around as a shapeshifting animal? Weirdo!

Ben’s clues for worldbuilding, many based on examples that I rejected for Big Engine:
  • If you can remove the sf element and still have a story, it’s not sf. (1)
  • You can’t change just one thing. There must be consequences to your change. (2)
  • The world must make sense to the people in it. (3)
  • There must be limitations to your world. (4)
  • Only have other races if there is something about them that could never be human. (5)
  • You're not limited by an effects budget in a book. Go mad!
There were 21 in the first group, 15 in the second; mostly year 9 with a scattering of 8 and 7. Quite a few girls turned up - in fact they were the majority in the second group, which I found very encouraging. Mary Shelley, Ursula le Guin – there’s a substantial female heritage to science fiction that gets ignored all too easily.

The learn- oh soddit library already has a copy of Wing├Ęd Chariot. One boy decided he prefers the original title and the present cover: clearly a young man of great discernment. I explained to another boy that Time’s Chariot is a slightly rewritten and generally updated version of the former. ‘Why did you write the same book twice?’ he asked. ‘That’s just stupid.’


Photos may follow.

  1. Big Engine reject: a story that was allegedly on an alien world but was basically a 1930s Chicago gangster adventure, so should have been set in 1930s Chicago.
  2. Big Engine reject: a world in which the Cuban Missile Crisis ended in nuclear war; 40 years later, background radiation is so high that the race can only breed by cloning. And yet everything else is the same as now: US still a superpower, no nuclear winter ...
  3. Big Engine reject: the European parliament outlaws women, making all of Europe male and gay and reproducing by cloning. A fearless underground women’s resistance army is determined to smash the reproduction centres and make European blokes hetero again. This was meant to be a dire warning about the perils of ideology and cloning but ended as merely dire.
  4. ‘Frodo, you must throw the One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom. Now we’ll just ask the giant eagles to fly us down to Mordor and be home for tea.’
  5. Elves add nothing!


  1. 3. Surely the underground women's resistance army would just march to somewhere the men still wanted to shag them?

  2. What, in these shoes?

    Anyway, you may have put your finger on at least on flaw in the proposal.

  3. OH MAN


    I've been getting the itch to write lately, but I'm being put off by the fact that I haven't touched the story in years. The plot's been sitting in my head, fully formed, for a long time; and the prospect of actually *writing* it is more than a little intimidating!


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