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SF Subgenre Guides
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What is World-Building Science Fiction?
World-Building is both its own sub-genre and a term used in the writing world to describe the task of creating a complete fictional world. World-building is a huge part of all Science Fiction (and Fantasy) stories.
World-building is a big task that involves more than just describing setting--although this is important. World-building describes how the world works, and aspects like these are important:
Biology, specifically of alien races
History and timelines
Politics and religion
Technological development and its consequences
Setting (i.e. ecology, geology, astronomy, architecture, populations)
Stories within the World-Building sub-genre tend to be quite expansive. To a degree, all science fiction requires a certain level of world building; indeed, all speculative fiction requires world building to create something different than the ordinary. However, if a book is categorized in the World-Building subgenre, then extra emphasis is given to building a completely new world, with the rules often highly divorced from "reality." Often a huge level of detail filling out the "new world" is given.
Readers will notice the level of research done by the writer to create the fictional world. Usually, the worlds are unusual. Alien races and an evolved humanity that is nearly unrecognizable tend to populate these worlds.
Other Features of World-Building SF
- Level of Real Science
Typically High. Science is a key component of world-building because it establishes the physics of the world (how the world works) and its level of technological development.
- Level of Grand Ideas/Social Implications
Typically High. World-Building develops entire societies and cultures so there is plenty of room for social commentary.
- Level of Characterization
Typically Low. A hard example of the World-Building sub-genre will have relatively low characterization because of its focus on creating the world.
- Level of Plot Complexity
Typically Low. World-Building tends to have lengthy descriptions and this pulls the reader away from the plot.
- Level of Violence
Variable. Violence may be a component of a world, but it may not be.
Related Science Fiction subgenres
All the sub-genres! World-building is a significant part of all Sci Fi--some stories may focus on the building more than others, but all sub-genres at some point need to construct the story's world.
World-Building Science Fiction isn't for you if...“
If you don't like Speculative Fiction. World-building is a part of all speculative stories--Sci Fi, Fantasy, and Horror--so if you cannot become engrossed in the construction of a fictional world, World-Building and thus all Speculative Fiction is not for you.
- 1 Mission of Gravity
By Hal Clement. This story is a discovery of the oceans on planet Mesklin--a planet with an iron core, a rapid rotation, and a sentient species that resemble yard-long centipedes.
- 2 Rocheworld
By Robert Forward. Rocheworld is a double planet, meaning the two planets share an atmosphere and are egg shaped.
- 3 Big Planet
By Jack Vance. A craft crash lands on the Big Planet and the survivors face a 40,000 mile trek across a dangerous landscape.
- 4 Dune series
By Frank Herbert. An expansive saga, this series has a complex political system as well as a well developed setting in the planet Arrakis.
- 5 Ringworld series
By Larry Niven. This series takes place in the Known Space universe, created by Niven, and consists of several colonies and alien species.
- 6 Discworld
By Terry Pratchett. More Fantasy than Sci Fi, this series takes place on a flat planet that is carried by four elephants who stand on a space-turtle.
- 7 Neuromancer
By William Gibson This novel inspired the Cyperpunk sub-genre, but its evocation of the world--neon streets, electric atmosphere, the blackness of cyberspace--is striking.
- 8 Windup Girl
By Paolo Bacigalupi. This Biopunk novel creates a setting that is very real--the setting happens to be a future Earth.
- 9 Culture series
By Iain M. Banks. A sprawling series with a well developed society complete with social norms, language, biology, artificial intelligences, and the list goes on.
- 10 Dragonriders of Pern series
By Anne McCaffrey. Pern is a planet colonized by humans, but the technology of their ancestors has been lost.