And On The Seventh Day I Published: the joys of world-building

All fiction writers have a God complex – they want to be a creator. Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, in which a scientist usurped the role of God by creating a sentient creature. It was intended to be regarded as a shocking blasphemy that could only lead to disaster, but it’s something that fiction writers have done from the dawn of fiction writing. The irony, of course, is that Mary Shelley herself created Victor Frankenstein.

Our creations are invariably caught in the usual religious controversies. Are they subject to predestination, because we have planned, to the last jot and tittle, exactly what they will think, say, do and become, or do they have free will and go off on tangents we weren’t expecting, because they know much better than us how they would really behave? Either way, we reserve the power to deliver salvation or damnation. Or eternal life if we promise them a whole series. Of course, some authors even manage to confer reincarnation, by making their characters all the same.

Authors of any fiction create their own characters, even if breathing life into stock models provided by history. When it comes to science fiction and fantasy, we also become the ultimate creator, prime mover and absolute ruler of entire worlds. Dystopian predictions of doom, parallel universes, space exploration, or imaginary lands populated by dragons and unicorns all allow us to create our own time, or place, or both. Even when we build upon scientific facts and geographical certainties, we are taking charge with deliciously divine abandon.

The abandon is probably best subject to a few curbs. The imagination has no limits (probably not true, but for the sake of argument let’s say it is), but create a world that is totally alien and it will only be accessible to readers on hallucinogenic drugs. The saner reader will have trouble finding somewhere solid to stand. Give them a safe viewing platform of comfortably recognisable reality, before presenting them with the great unknown. Tolkien’s Middle Earth may offer incredible mountains and forests, improbable waterfalls, spectacular mines, fabulous cities and ominous towers, elves, dwarves, heroes, monsters and magic, but at its centre is the Shire, a version of Oxfordshire, with tobacco, pubs, hearty breakfasts, birthday parties and a concern for crockery.

My created world in Inside Out is the Solar System, which is a little bit arrogant since someone else invented it first. But I have felt entitled to make free with the bits that are already there. After all, it’s really a book about people and what we would do with anything we found: probably screw it up, judging from the mess we’ve managed to make of our own planet.

The future that I have created is also founded in the present – although our current present was still an improbable future when I first wrote about it. It is a world in which climate change, pandemics and war have brought about stresses and strains ending the dominance of nation states and delusions of democracy. Heaven forbid! Into the resulting chaos, corporations have stepped, taking charge to restore civilisation (at least to those who can afford the premiums). Even taking charge of Space exploration. Could we envisage a future in which mega-corporations have more power and influence than national governments? Heaven forbid!

My corporations play nice in the Inner Circles of the Solar System, out as far as Jupiter and its moons. Civilised commerce is easier if universal law is observed, with slightly more emphasis on contractual obligations and financial regulation, rather than concerns about murder, rape and pillage. But greed and capitalism being our ideal driving force (so Boris Johnson tells us), the corporations also itch to indulge in free enterprise at its purest. Enterprise without petty laws, regulations or restrictions of any form. So the Outer Circles of the Solar System, beyond Jupiter, make up the deregulated zone, where they can do just that. Survival of the most astute business mind, or of the most dedicated psychopath, depending on how you look at it. Imagine a situation in which a corporation from a highly regulated country could impose itself on another place, far away, to suck out profit without concern for the safety of the workforce, the needs of the local population or the destruction of the environment. Heaven forbid! Couldn’t happen now. Except, perhaps, in Bhopal.

Okay, so maybe the world I have created isn’t entirely original in concept. It carries with it the trappings of the present and not too fanciful predictions of the future, so readers would have no difficulty identifying with the situations. But it’s still divinely agreeable to be able to create it. And to bring about the end of days, when I so choose. (hint: the story continues.)

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4 thoughts on “And On The Seventh Day I Published: the joys of world-building

  1. One of the things I love about Inside Out is that the surroundings may have changed but the age-old problems and delights of human behaviour haven’t. That picture of Bhopal is an horrific reminder of what man is prepared to do to man in the interests of profit.

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