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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sustainable Living

Have you ever met a person who insists that they are totally and completely one hundred percent independent?

Are you ever tempted to ask them how they made the dye for their clothes or cut the leather for their shoes?

I'm always tempted to ask something snarky like that. Current world standards have made true independence an endangered creature. With the exception of a few rare cultures or extreme situations our societies are built on interdependence.

I need someone to grow my food, weave my clothes, butcher my meat, and turn fossil fuels into gasoline for my car. Left to my own devices I could probably forage a nice vegetarian diet during the warmer months, possibly hunt something stupid and slow moving during the winter, but I don't have the foggiest idea how fossil fuel becomes kinetic energy to move my car, and I certainly can't make my own shoes.

When you stop to think about it, creating a working fictional society becomes a bit of a headache. The readers may never ask why Planet Z is so wealthy or why Character X can find this object but not that object, but the author needs to know.

The author must have all the answers.

Earth-based novels, both historical or in modern settings, have an advantage in that their scenes are already set. If the author writes that Character Fabulous lives in New York City in 2009 we can all picture a city that will fit the framework, world-building done.

If a sci-fi author says that Character Fabulous lives in Mila Orbital Base in 243 Venusian Reckoning the author is going to get polite nods and confused looks.

I'm putting together a series on world-building because I need the work. My planets and cultures lack depth. I'm missing pieces to the puzzle still, and I'd like your input.

What makes a world sustainable?

What makes a sci-fi culture/planet independent?

I'm think the main topics will cover: food, economy, government, and housing. What would you add to the list?


  1. One thing that makes things believable is religion. If everyone holds the same beliefs, it gets boring. Every alien species is going to have their own set of beliefs that humans will consider to be their religion.

    Looking forward to this series. It'll be interesting to see a fresh take on it.

  2. Easy...? Look to history of colonization efforts even here in the "new world".

    The countries in the old world sent explorers ahead of colonists to ensure that it was possible to live in the new place and be self-sufficient. This was necessary as it could take months to get supplies across the sea.

    They would mainly be looking land with plentiful food sources.

    There also had to be a reason they were looking to colonize in X area. It could be because this new place provided a resource they needed back home (copper, silver, or gold, for example). It could be because they were trying to defend their interests in a new world and ensuring that an enemy could not expand their empire without any checks and balances.

    We do the same right now as our scientists project their technical eyeballs out into space looking for a new earth. They are looking for livable conditions beyond our planet. I know some scifi geeks are searching for fellow humans out there, but to a certain extent scientists are looking for another earth in case ours goes to pot.

    In history - when the explorers gave the OK, the colonists would be sent next. The first waves were generally the unwanteds in society who were supposed to build the settlement in the new world and civilize it. They would bring enough food goods (animals and storable food) and raw supplies (seeds, flour, sugars for example) to sustain them for a period of time it takes before they are truly self-sufficient and producing goods in the new settlement.

    As far as the economy - it would be supported by the trade of materials produced in this new world and sold to the old country.

    Or it could simply be the trade of materials for a good that everyone in this new planet needs or wants (alcohol or animals). Check into various countries around the world to see what they used as money. It could be something like a chip of jade that is of value to the wealthiest and most powerful person in town. And definitely create new materials or measures for your planets. :)

    Other than that - you could read up for inspiration. Ursula Le Guin's books. Unless I'm messed up and thinking of a different scifi author, she is the one who wrote about societies in space.

  3. ETA - I cut off before I manage to say what I intended before I got to babbling about what [I think] is important with world building.

    I'm absolutely looking forward to reading this series too, as I love to see other people's worldbuilding ideas. Sometimes you pick up something new that you didn't even consider.

  4. Stephanie - I hadn't thought of religion, I've edited it out to avoid controversy in my current series. But you're right, beliefs (religious or otherwise) are a huge part of the cultural mindset. I'll have to think about how belief systems work in space.

    Catherine - I thought le Guin did fantasy, but I could be wrong. I'll look forward to your comments as I work on the series. :o)