4 Rules for Assembling a Planet

Millions of my fans well remember when I first posted back on February 24, 2013 about assembling a planet. That seminal blog post dominated the news and captivated the world (our world, the real Earth, I mean).

Why revisit the topic, then? Has the process of world-building changed? Well, some links in that previous post don’t work, and it’s time for an update with some better information.

Pixabay.com, image #1275774

 

 

Here you are, ready to write a story set in a world different from ours, and you want to know how to do it. Or you’re partway through writing the story already, things aren’t working out, and you want to know where you went wrong.

You can get good information from reading the Wikipedia article on world-building. Roz Morris’ post on the topic encapsulates her advice into three rules. Ruthanne Reid posted a fine article discussing approaches to world-building. What follows is my view of the topic, but you should review these other sources, too.

Here are my four rules for creating a world for your story:

  1. Think through the consequences. You’ve thought of some interesting and original ways that your world is different from the real one…great. But have you thought through the ramifications? Think of Frank Herbert’s Dune and Arrakis, the desert world. Herbert thought through the implications of that type of climate on people’s behavior, clothing, lifestyle, and other animal life.
  2. Set limits on your magic or technology. Sure, it’s fun to imagine a world of amazing magic or super-advanced technologies. But add some constraints. If your protagonist is some all-powerful wizard, then she or he could simply wave a wand and resolve the conflict in the opening scene. Story over.
  3. Make your world clear to readers. Authors who set their stories in the real world have it relatively easy. They can assume readers understand the rules and norms. They needn’t spend many sentences describing the Earth we know. You don’t have that luxury. You’ll need enough (but not too much!) descriptive text to transport readers to your world.
  4. Be consistent. Sure, you’re thinking, you’ll remember the rules of your world as you’re writing your story. I wouldn’t add this as one of my rules if it were that easy. For some reason, there’s a tendency to forget and slip back into our own world.

Armed with my rules, you should now be ready to get out there and build your own world. It’s freely provided services such as this that makes millions around the world (the real one, our Earth) thrill to the mere mention of the name of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

The 7 Best Science Fiction Submarines

My recent experience moderating a panel on Science Fiction submarines at Chessiecon inspired this blog post. As a former submariner and current science fiction writer, I’m fascinated by the submarines of SF. Earth’s ocean, or oceans in general, are not common settings in SF, and I really enjoy such stories when I come across them.

Before I reveal the list of the seven best, here’s my chronologically ordered list of the more prominent submarines of science fiction. The list includes those from books, movies, TV shows, and some Anime. I included the Red October as a SF sub because of its advanced “caterpillar drive.”

Name Source (Book, Movie, TV, Anime) Year(s)
Nautilus (B,M,T) 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea 1870 (B)

1916, 1954 (M)

1997 (T)

Wonder (B) Tom Swift and His Submarine Boat 1910
Rocket Submarine (M) The Undersea Kingdom 1936
The Iron Fish (C) The Beano 1949
USS Triton (B) Attack From Atlantis 1953
Jetmarine (B) Tom Swift and His Jetmarine 1954
Diving Seacopter (B) Tom Swift and His Diving Seacopter 1956
Fenian Ram S1881 (B) Under Pressure or The Dragon in the Sea 1956
Seaview (M,T) Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea 1961, 1964-1968
Flying Sub (FS-1) (T) Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea 1964-1968
Unnamed (M) Atlantis the Lost Continent 1961
Stingray (T) Stingray 1964
Gotengo (M) Atragon 1963
Proteus/Voyager (B,M) Fantastic Voyage 1966
Blue Sub 006 (A) Blue Submarine #6 1967,1997-2000
Dyna-4 Capsule (B) Tom Swift and His Dyna-4 Capsule 1969
<Unknown> (B) The Deep Range 1970
Rorqual Maru (B) The Godwhale 1974
S.S. Cetacean (T) The Man from Atlantis 1977-78
Sea Trench (B) Aquarius Mission 1978
Blue Noah (T) Thundersub 1979-80
Red October (B,M) The Hunt for Red October 1984 (B) 1990 (M)
Seaquest (T) Seaquest DSV 1993-96
Gungan Bongo Submarine (M) Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace 1999
Ulysses (M) Atlantis: The Lost Empire 2001
UX (A) Submarine 707R 2003
I-507 (M) Lorelei: The Witch of the Pacific Ocean 2005
Vorpal Blade (B) Looking Glass series 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009
I-401 (A) Arpeggio of Blue Steel 2009-Present
Hydra MiniSub (M) Captain America: The First Avenger 2011

To choose the best of these, I considered these criteria:

  • Vividness. How detailed was the description, or how thoroughly was it depicted on screen? Did the audience form a clear mental picture of the sub?
  • Technological Advancement. How much more advanced was the submarine when compared to typical submarines of the era in which the work was produced (not necessarily the time of the story)?
  • Necessity to Plot. Did the plot of the story require a submarine at all, or would the story have worked if set aboard a different kind of vessel?
  • Coolness. Was the depiction of the submarine aesthetically pleasing?
  • Memorability. Does (or will) the submarine in this fiction work stand the test of time? Can you recall details of the submarine and the story years later?

Here’s my list of the 7 best science fiction submarines:

  1. Fenian Ram S1881. This is the submarine from Frank Herbert’s 1956 novel The Dragon in the Sea (also published as Under Pressure). The novel is intense, and focuses on the psychologies of the characters, and how the submarine setting affects them. The Fenian Ram is a nuclear-powered “subtug” that sneaks into the underwater oil fields of enemy countries, pumps out the valuable oil, and tows it back home. Herbert took the name of his fictional vessel from the submarine built by John Holland for the Fenians in 1881.

 

  1. Proteus/Voyager. Most will recall the submarine from the 1966 film, and Isaac Asimov novel Fantastic Voyage. In the book and movie, the submarine was known as Proteus, but in the 1968-1970 cartoon it was known as Voyager. It didn’t go underwater, but was miniaturized and injected into a human body. You’ve got to love the many windows, and the bubble window on top. The movie version was designed by Harper Goff, a movie prop man I’ll mention again later.
  1. Sea Trench. Here is the submarine from the 1978 novel Aquarius Mission by Martin Caidin. The novel is not well-known, but I like that the book contained a foldout picture of the submarine, a complete side view depiction of its interior. This sub was huge, and well equipped for both exploration and military missions. Nuclear-powered, it had an observation deck with a window, an observation bubble that could be lowered, a mini-sub, torpedoes, nuclear missiles, and a handball court.

 

  1. FS-1.You’ll recognize the flying submarine from the 1964-1968 TV Show “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.” Nuclear-powered, it had windows, a manipulator arm, and room for two operators, plus perhaps a passenger. It launched from and returned to its mother sub, the Seaview. Oh yeah, and it could fly. It could land on water, on an aircraft carrier, or on a runway ashore.
  1. Seaview. Now we’ve come to the submarine from the 1961 movie “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” and the 1964-1968 TV show of the same name. In the movie, it was USOS Seaview, for United States Oceanographic Survey, but in the TV show it was S.S.R.N. Seaview, apparently to indicate it was part of the US submarine fleet, but still a research sub. Nuclear powered, it could deploy the Flying Sub, as mentioned. It had observation windows near the bow. The bow had a distinctive shape, reminiscent of a manta ray. The stern looked like the back end of a 1961 Cadillac.
  1. SeaQuest. The second-best SF submarine is from the 1993-1996 TV series “seaQuest DSV” (or “seaQuest 2032” in the final season). Measuring over 1000 feet long, the sub could move at 160 knots thanks to its twin fusion reactors. Its shape resembled a squid, and its hull had a bio-skin coating to repel sea organisms. It could dive to 29,000 feet. Seaquest travelled with a cloud of unmanned undersea vehicles, with sensors and other capabilities. Its armament included torpedoes, missiles, and lasers. One member of the crew was a genetically enhanced dolphin that moved throughout the sub in water-filled tubes.
  1. Nautilus. The best science fiction submarine could only be the Nautilus, from Jules Verne’s 1870 novel Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Verne also mentioned it in his 1874 novel, The Mysterious Island. The story has been depicted in at least six films and there have been several spin-off novels and films featuring the submarine. With a length of 230 feet and a maximum speed of 50 knots, the vessel used a bow ram as its weapon. It could deploy divers as well as a small rowboat. It had a large “living room” with a pipe organ. Despite Verne’s meticulous description, there have been numerous different depictions of what the Nautilus looked like. The best, in my view, is the version Harper Goff created for the 1954 Disney movie.

There they are, the 7 best science fiction submarines. Did I miss your favorite, or would you have put them in a different order? Leave a comment for—

Poseidon’s Scribe

December 18, 2016Permalink

How to Assemble a Planet

Oh, did you really think you could surf to this blog entry and learn how to design and construct an entire planet?  Well, okay, you were right.  So long as you’re expecting a how-to about fictional planets.

transparent-planetAuthors call this ‘world-building’ and they sometimes use the term ‘world’ in a different sense than the term ‘planet.’  In fiction, the world is not just the physical planet, but its inhabitants, their culture, and their environment too.

In most fiction, it’s not necessary to build a world, since the authors use the present-day (or historical) world we already inhabit.  They can assume readers are familiar with Planet Earth.  Such authors are free to focus on key aspects of Earth that are relevant to their story, to paint a biased picture of our world as seen by the author or one (or more) characters.

But in fantasy fiction or science fiction, it’s often interesting and fun to imagine and create very different worlds from Earth, or a very changed Earth.

Memorable, classic, examples of world-building include (1) Middle Earth from J.R.R. Tolkien’s books including The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, (2) the planet Arrakis from Frank Herbert’s novel Dune and its sequels, and (3) the strangely-shaped structure of Larry Niven’s novel Ringworld.

If you set out to build a world for your fiction story, what things might you consider?  A partial list includes the particular laws of physics, the solar system, the planet’s size and gravity, configuration of solids and liquids internally and on the surface, the atmosphere, geography, climate, plants, animals, and sentient creatures.  If your world has sentient creatures, then you could consider such things as cultures, languages, religion, art, education, economics, government, law, traditions, taboos, and technology.

Although Wikipedia has an interesting article on World-building, there are two other sites that I found more beneficial:  this one, and this one.  The latter site is run by Melanie Simet, who has come up with four cardinal rules of world-building that I really like, starting with zero:

0.  Be Original.

1.  Don’t distract your reader.

2.  Make your world coherent.

3.  Know at least one level of detail deeper than you need to.

She explains these in more depth on her website, so I won’t repeat those details here.  I would like to emphasize Rule 1, though.  It can be a temptation to get so involved with world-building that you forget it’s just a setting.  Stories are about characters dealing with problems, so don’t give your readers a documentary.

I’m sure this world-building is starting to sound like an awful lot of work, when all you set out to do was write a story.  It can be involved, but it needn’t consume you if you keep Simet’s cardinal rules in mind as you go.  If you write short stories, like me, you don’t have as much need for comprehensive world-building as a novelist would, unless you’re planning a long series of stories set on the same world.

That’s a glimpse at the basics of world-building.  Have fun.  Make your world an interesting one to read about.  Enjoy your taste of God-like power.  If this blog entry has inspired you, and you end up selling your story set in a fascinating new world, please let me know.  Your world could well be visited by—

                                                       Poseidon’s Scribe

February 24, 2013Permalink