Hello Readers! Today I’m pleased to welcome Jonathan Sourbeer on Books Teacup and Reviews to talk about Crafting Believable Sci-Fi (and Fantasy) Worlds for his new release Mercenary’s Child, first in The Phoenix Fallacy series. Check out the book details and interesting guest post below.
Mercenary’s Child (The Phoenix Fallacy Book 1) by Jonathan Sourbeer
Publication Date: August 30th 2019
Publisher: Vulpine Press
Genre: YA / Dystopia
A GROUP OF MERCENARIES FIGHT FOR THE TRUTH IN A DYSTOPIAN WORLD.
The slums of Cerberus Corporation are the dumping grounds for trash, secrets, and the dregs of society. And they’re the only home Janus has ever known. But when an Overlord of Cerberus comes knocking, searching for new recruits for her swelling armies in the battle for supremacy, he is swept up in a conflict that has been brewing for years.
Janus is not destined for the front lines, however. When he is unexpectedly sold to the ODIN Legion, an elite mercenary unit living on the fringes of Corporate control, he finds that his years of survival in the fetid slums will be put to the test. But survival will soon be the least of his concerns.
The ODIN Legion is about to be thrust into the middle of a conspiracy that will roil the very foundations of Corporate dominance. Can Janus, and ODIN, make it out alive?
Book Links: Goodreads | Amazon
Crafting Believable Sci-Fi
(and Fantasy) Worlds
I’ve been asked several times now about how I created the
world of Mercenary’s Child, and the richly imagined places within it. Some people are flabbergasted how someone can
think up so many unique and disparate pieces of a world, yet keep them
consistent and grounded. The truth is
that crafting believable science fiction and fantasy worlds is simply a process
borne out of building on initial ideas, and asking questions about those ideas
until they are consistent. Most
importantly, it’s about continuing to ask questions about those ideas even
after you come up with an answer. Sometimes
you will discover new and fascinating concepts.
Sometimes you will realize that a plot point doesn’t work. But no matter whether you are a detailed
planner, or a ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ type writer, this approach can
Generally, the questions most writers are taught to ask follow
the standard ‘who, what, where, why, and how’ format, and there is nothing
wrong with that. Those are the right
questions to ask, but the key is to avoid pigeonholing yourself into a single
answer per question, or to stop at one layer deep. Don’t let the answer to one question
influence your answer to another, as freely answering can often reveal problems
in your plot, characters, or world, or even inspire you in new ways. Sometimes the perfect setup in your mind
doesn’t hold together when you shine a light on the dark spots!
Let’s say I’m writing a modern cyberpunk detective noir
thriller, and perhaps my hero is chasing after the villain, who hasn’t been
revealed yet, and on a whim I put them in a mall in a crazy footrace. Imagine such a situation, if you will. Right now, this might not seem too interesting
or unique in your mind. It certainly
seems kind of plain in mine. So how do
we build this out? How to we make it
feel more cyberpunk/noir? What questions
do we need to ask to get insight into our world? Unfortunately, we all know that the ‘right’ questions
usually won’t surface right away. So
let’s ask just one quick question:
Why did the villain choose to go to a mall?
A1) The mall is the decaying heart
of this capitalist city, the glowing holopanels of its walls light up the night
and attract massive crowds, making it easy to get lost in.
A2) Our villain hates the
bourgeoisie. Once a member of this
class, he was here to hurt as many people as he could, in every way he could.
You might have come up with different answers, but already,
we’ve started to put something together that feels a little better. And maybe these two answers work together,
maybe not. Let’s build on the first,
before asking anything else:
What are the mall crowds like?
B1) The crowds are teeming masses
of every kind of person. Poor wretched
souls pander for money along the boardwalks, daring not move any closer for
fear of the local security. The local
5:00 train pulls directly into the mall station, letting off a combination of
workmen meeting their families and fixers hoping that the newest dream-stims
might be available for purchase.
OK, that sounds kind of cool, but hold on – we’ve got a
problem. Our imagined answers don’t work
anymore. Our villain hates the upper
class, but the crowds most definitely aren’t.
It doesn’t make sense for him to be here to hurt people. We’re starting to get some cool ideas
flowing, but we need consistency, too. He
has to be here for something else, or we have to change our mall a bit. Let’s try changing up the mall crowds. We think we know our villain pretty well at
this point – smart and only on the run because our hero got a lucky break. They were definitely planning to hurt people.
B2) The Watchtower mall is the
gathering place of the elite, who come to flaunt their wealth. There are more convenient ways to shop, but
no better place to show status. For
beyond the massive jewels and the perfumed smoke of Jane, the ability to spend and
the size of one’s collection of ‘indents’ are the true status symbols of this
Wait, what are indents?
C3) Indents. Poor souls who’ve gone into debt and now
service the elite bondholders of the city.
And all types are here in the mall, from your standards, who scurry
behind their masters, or dash forth to bring only the best food, tech, and
finery, to the far sadder sights, who may be dressed for their masters’
pleasure, or augmented at their whim.
And all of them wear the standard AugCollar, placed around their necks to
keep them in line.
Now we’re getting somewhere.
Not only is the world more richly imagined than before, but we now have
a new idea for the villain – and maybe some story changes in our future.
A3) The rash of escaped indents in
the news was starting to make sense. Our
villain had been testing a hack on the AugCollars, and what better place to
cause chaos than to spontaneously free thousands of them at once.
There, we have it.
Suddenly, our villain is clearer than before, and so is our plot. If you’re the planning type, this might be
where you suddenly realize you have a better hook. If you’re not, you might suddenly realize
that the escaped servants that you wrote about in chapters 1, 3, and 7 are not
just being freed and the differences in the murders our hero is investigating
might be because our villain isn’t doing the dirty work himself.
Obviously, this is a quick and dirty example, with plenty
more to explore, but I’ve stumbled into more than one writing discovery in
similar fashion! And even when all the
discovered details don’t get included in my books, they help create consistency,
which is perhaps most important of all.
Because consistency is one thing in writing that is most noticeable when
it is missing. By asking these detailed
questions often, and more than once, I recognize problems in all aspects of my
world-building, and fix problems sooner rather than trying to patch them up
later. This process made a huge
difference in Mercenary’s Child, and made me a better writer overall. And whether you are reading a book, or
writing one, I hope it helps you flesh out the world or notice new details in
the writing that you never considered before.
All the best, and happy reading!
A computer programmer by day, and a writer by night, Jonathan Sourbeer
has long been a fan of technology and science fiction, drawing from a wide
variety of experiences for his work. This includes (among others) a stint in
corporate finance, a degree in physics, providing op-eds for the Wall Street Journal, running a half-Ironman
with Navy Seals, and diving the Great Barrier Reef.
When he’s not writing or working in tech, you can
often find him rock climbing, building electronics with his father, or trying
to be a better cook. He currently resides in Seattle, Washington.
Jonathan’s book Mercenary’s Child is available here.
What do you think about the book and post? Have you read this book already? Are you going to add it to TBR?
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