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Monday, February 22, 2010

Rage Against the Monoculture

Monoculture (n.): A single, homogeneous culture without diversity or dissension.

Last week I posted a Defense of the Monoculture Future. Now, let's look at it from the other side. The chances of having a single planet with only one culture present is low. Exceptionally low. So low that writers who resort to this better have a really good excuse or else.

The monoculture description works in a couple of places for science fiction writers:

1 - The main character is an outsider who only sees one city and assumes the whole planet is that way. This is viable, especially if your MC is kind of dumb. Or doesn't watch anything like TV. Or is very young.

2- There was colonizing force that monitored the immigration of new colonists. There would be a strong Founder's Effect. This is possible, and even likely if the colony is young.

3- The planet's culture is ruled to an extreme edge where everyone receives the same news, entertainment, education, and fashion. This could be possible if there is a dictatorship or other very controlling government.

In all other cases, the culture is going to vary.

Culture varies by language, architecture, tradition, population size, and source of livelihood. If you have a port city with people speaking multiple languages, architecture and tradtion influenced by multiple nations, and an income based on trade the culture won't be the same as the town up the mountainside with two hundred people whose livelihood relies on the breeding of small purple pom-poms.

It's easy for a writer to cop out and say that the whole planet has one culture. And I might believe it, if the species in question is a hive mind. But there's such wild variance in human nature that I don't think you could sum up an entire world in just a few phrases.

But, I'm not here to rant about bad writing. I want to prevent bad writing. This week I'll be doing a post each day on some different aspect of culture, how to manipulate it to get the world you want, and what aspects to bring out in your writing.

The planned posts will cover: Language, Architecture and Design, Traditions, Population Sizes, and Money.

If you have a suggestion for the list or some aspect you think needs to be covered please let me know. :o)

Photos are copyrighted to and courtesy of their respective owners: pagoda, triplets, Kremlin.


  1. Here's a general rule of thumb I've figured: The smaller and more tight-knit the group, the more likely it is it can be monoculture.

  2. I agree. And I'm looking forward to your posts - sounds very interesting and helpful. :-)

  3. Excellent points. I have found that when you have an alien culture with only one culture shown, it seems a bit like an easy out for a writer.

    There would likely be bit of conflict over who would get to monopolize/profit from contact with us. So I'd think a writer would be avoiding dealing with that can of worms if they don't mention other cultures.

    And, conversely, there's the story set in a single Earth nation--like the USA--where the aliens show up and yet no other country has any sort of say, doesn't show up on the story's radar either.