My Thoughts On World (Re)Building
… For Steampunk or any other historical-fantasy setting, you are obligated to mess with the world. Even with a near-future setting, you have to be mindful of the current condition of what we know about the world.
“This is Charlie Two. I am heading north of Old Toronto. I’ve got five Birds available for a micro if anyone can give me a road report.”
“Charlie Two, this is Daniel Five. I’m on the Eleven, in the Park, blade raised, rolling at one-fourty in the clear, over.”
That’s a snip from a short story I’m working on titled “After Three Degrees and One Percent”. It’s set in Canada, after global warming turned out to be true, and the Occupy movement didn’t get us to wake up. Those four sentences pretty much define the world. Digital Identities are based on your first name and the first digit of your SIN/SSN. “Birds” are currency; the Canadian “Loonie”. A “micro” is a reference for a “micro-payment”; small and quick cash moved on demand for a one-off transaction. “Blade raised” is a reference to the fact that transports are fitted with snowplow-style prow-blades for clearing debris or obstruction from the road.
All of that stuff is 1990’s to 2010’s … yet, I am guessing the story is the summer of 2069 or so. Its all based on what we know now about the world and it’s history as we own it, but bent to fit around a future mold.
A decade after the Crimean War fizzled to its barely settled conclusion, an Italian scientist succeeded in using electricity to animate a hand-constructed creature from the cadavers of a group of different species of dogs. The resulting creature was essentially a clean slate with minimal fundamental behaviors. Essentially, it barely knew how to be a dog, but at the same time demonstrated characteristics of each of the different breeds it had been built from.
That’s a snip from first book in the Steampunk stories of The Sauder Diaries. The concept discussed is Galvanism, dating back to the 1790’s. Naturally, the most famous fictional example is Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus“. It turns out, of course, that 200-and-some years later we cannot actually reanimate the dead with electrical shocks. However, we do know that the body runs on electricity.
However, I decided that in my version of the world, Frankenstein’s monster was just such an iconic literary character that I wanted Galvanism to work as it was thought to work in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. It is a subtle change with far reaching implications, though:
In pursuit of a “super soldier” project, the Allied Empires rapidly stopped experimenting with animal parts and began assembling human constructs. Dubbed “Galvanotaurs”, after the principle of galvanism that was used in their creation, it was not long before the Russian Empire also began developing their own.
Not the greatest of news for the world of The Sauder Diaries, but it was a natural-feeling progression. That is part of world-building to me. As a story-teller and as both a role-playing game designer and referee, it doesn’t matter to me if I declare water to be toxic. What matters is that the reason and the reaction is a natural-feeling extension of the world around it.
If something “sticks out” as anything less than a “oh, cool!” reaction when I read, write or ref something, it is usually a warning flag that the item in question does not feel like it is a “natural extension” .
As I noted elsewhere on this site, I’ve been reading science-fiction and fantasy since I was a pre-teen. My favorite authors, such as Heinlein and Mccaffrey, both routinely postulated some pretty impressive coincidences or tricks of fate as part of their books. However, in all cases, they were explained in such a way that I always felt it easy to say “Yeah, that makes sense”.
That’s what I aim for in my world-building. It needs to feel natural and it needs to make sense.