I think things. Then I write about them. It's the narcissism, you see.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Beyond the Present

For no reason I can recall, my title for the comic book at the foundation of Book Number One was going to be Beyond. I have no idea what this could have meant; it almost certainly wasn't the notion clumsily put into words in the title above. In any case, that single word became my shorthand for the project forever after. Any time I started a file that was to be the manuscript, it was labeled "Beyond." And, in fact, Book Number Two is saved on my computer as "Beyond 2."

But rather than use this entry's title to discuss inside reasons for names of text files, I mean instead to look at the world building for a future society. As a fan of speculative fiction myself, I love learning the details about the world my imagination is going to inhabit while I digest the narrative. How much is explained outright? How much is hinted at? Does the story take place near enough in time that you can see the connecting threads between then and now, or is it centuries in the future with only vagaries explaining the time just after our own? I'm not sure which is harder, really--distant future or near future. Near future needs to follow logically from the present day (even if the exact time is not specified), but it can also be peppered with immediately relate-able touchstones. The far future beckons with greater freedom to invent, but it fights against a lack of quick recognition and understanding.

For Book Number One, and the story that may well follow it in Book Number Two, I present a near future setting. That was always to be the case. The most fanciful idea (the national identity of my international antagonist) I ultimately replaced with something that is--hopefully--more easily believable. The fact that history itself is littered with unexpected turning points and events opens the willing mind up to unpredictable circumstances, but I also felt I shouldn't push my luck; I already had my share of big leaps, and I was wary of drifting into the borderline bizarre. So, knowing what my future world looks like (and remember that some of these details had been rattling around my head for almost two decades), the question became: How do I reveal it?

Obviously much is revealed, especially about the immediate present, as my characters move through the landscape. But how a thing becomes what it is is often as interesting as the end result. Of course none of the characters would be believable standing around discussing the recent history behind a dilapidated New York City (assuming New York City was dilapidated). After all, when was the last time you and another person discussed the differences between airport security in the years 1995 and 2013 in such a manner that a person transplanted from 1996 would know why there are differences? It's been a while, I'd wager.

So I chose periodic snippets of information--excerpts from my own future history. Such a tool is hardly new or novel (please ignore the ill-chosen pun); I encountered plays on this theme in my own recent reading: the slightly classic prequel to the yet more classic Foundation books, Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov, and the fun jaunt through the Halo universe, Glasslands by Karen Traviss. If I can stumble on two examples in two months, you can imagine how common a technique this is. Even so, it lets me, with a few sentences, or even a paragraph, preemptively answer a reader's possible question and tantalize his or her imagination by pulling back the curtain, hopefully in as seductive a manner as a Victorian era lady showing a little ankle.

As I wait for that pesky editorial evaluation to be sent my way, it's the world building aspect of the book that I am most interested in an opinion about.

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