Friday, April 29, 2016

World-Building Efficiency: It Can Be Done

For me, when talking of the Science Fiction that I prefer, it builds upon the foundation set down by "Doc" E.E. Smith and his Lensman saga.

These novels, starting with Galactic Patrol, laid the groundwork and blazed the trail for what we now call "Space Opera". From these books we get Star Wars, Green Lantern (in the form of the Green Lantern Corps), Super-Dimensional Fortress Macross, and many other works in multiple media and many languages.

What, as a writer, I take away from his books is the efficiency of his world-building. He wrote in the waning days of the pulps and the rise of the cheap paperback. The publishing game was in a state similar to where those focused on e-publishing is now.

Novels were much shorter, less than half (and closer to a third) of a common genre fiction novel today. Plots moved at a brisk pace because readers could drop your book and get another easily. In short, you must to get to the point, and that requires efficiency.

Efficiency is something Smith is very good at achieving. At no time did I have to struggle to comprehend what he said, or what the ideas were, or how things (real or unreal) worked. He trusted the reader to keep up, so he let a lot of the world-building be done between the lines.

Another author who also did a fantastic job of efficiency in world-building was Robert E. Howard. While he's famous for inventing Conan, he has a few other notable heroes (Kull of Atlantis, Solomon Kane, Bran Mac Morn) and worked in many adventure fiction genres.

He also wrote in the days of the pulps, with only one novel to his credit. Most of his stories are serialized shorts, and he wrote under the pressure of tight deadlines as well as stiff competition for reader eyeballs. He couldn't take 50 pages to go into world-building details, so he learned efficiency.

He did what Smith did, and trusted his readers to follow where he's going. A lot of this builds upon a shared sense of familiarity, pointing out only as necessary what the reader needs to see that this is an unreal thing or place. Reader attention, suspension of disbelief, etc. is never pushed to its limits or abused- unlike some who came in their wake.

And so, as I go about rewriting my own stuff, I have this efficiency in mind. As much as I respect Tolkien, his influence hasn't been entirely for the good, as he's one of the primary forces behind the growing obesity of genre fiction novels over my lifetime. Especially with all of the technological changes making a lot of the justifications for said obesity obsolete, a return to the slim and disciplined manuscripts of this past era is in order- especially with all of the other media competing for reader eyeballs.

And yes, of course I'm walking my talk.

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