Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Trapped in a Modern Mind

We're all writers, trying to create interesting worlds and problems for our characters to strive against.

Recently I watched season one and season two of Rome. I must admit that I had a rather limited idea of Rome, based on interminable Hollywood movies. (As a child I LOVED the Harryhausen's Jason and the Golden Fleece. Greek rather than Roman, but same area and similar style of clothes. For years I had a thing about men in short togas!).

What I found really interesting about The Rome series was the way it portrayed people's attitudes. The role of slaves was fascinating. They could be unlucky and die early in the salt mines, or they could end up serving a aristocratic family, with education, good food and the chance to buy their own freedom. They could identify with the family so strongly they felt part of it.

Watching Rome made me realise how trapped I was in a modern mindset. Christian attitudes are deeply engrained in our society. These ancient Roman people lived short lives. They bargained with different gods depending on what they needed. There was no 'turning the other cheek'. After watching this series I felt like my mind had had a grease and oil change. It was very invigorating.

I love it when I come across a really inventive, well realised world in a fantasy series. When I discovered Tolkien's LOTR at 17 I was blown away by the back story and sense of history. Now, when I read it to my children I skip the travellogue and read the exciting bits.

What series have you read, that impressed you with its world building?


KylieQ said...

I think Traci Harding's The Ancient Future series was the first fantasy I read and being a history buff, I loved it. I don't think I had realised before that fantasy could be more than dragons and elves and I also didn't realise that you could take a historical setting and real people and put them into a fictional setting. I also love Juliette Marillier's Sevenwaters Series - there is something magical about the way she writes that always leaves me not wanting to leave the world she has created.

Kate said...

Pratchett's Discworld books are a no-brainer here. You don't notice the world building and incredible richness of everything he's created until you stop to think about it and realize that he's built multiple distinct cultures, all of them with flaws and strengths, or that absolutely nothing is throwaway in that series. You just never know when he's going to re-use it.

Our very own Sarah's magical British Empire books are another good example, with all the delights and not-delights of the height of the British Empire only instead of the Industrial Revolution there's magic doing all the same things (and yes, I'd love to be able to take a magic carpet ship somewhere).

Dave's Pyramid books and the Rats, Bats, Vats books are also full of wonderful world building. I encourage anyone who's read Pyramid Scheme to ask him for the unexpurgated version of the section involving the Golden Fleece village... It makes much more sense than what ended up in print (although some people may think it's far too crude - can't make fun of the American willy or something...)

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Kylie, I love Juliette Marillier's writing. I saw her speaking at the Brisbane Writers Festival.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Kate, when ever I read Terry Pratchett I wonder why I write. He's so clever, what's left for the rest of us?

Kate said...


I feel the same way when I read Pratchett. I finish his books thinking "If only I could be half that good!" and "Why do I try? I can't ever get close to this."

On a complete fangirly squee, I am SO looking forward to seeing him at the US Discworld Con this September.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Kate, I had breakfast with Terry Pratchett (no, it wasn't like that at all!) at world Con in Melbourne in 1999. He was at the same hotel and we shared a table. He was a thorough gentleman.

My sons love Pratchett. When ever I run a workshop on writing in high schools, I'll come across some smart kid at the back of the class. And I'll say to him, I bet you read Terry Pratchett and his eyes will light up, because another human being, an adult, no less, actually gets Pratchett.

It must be incredibly lonely out there in the mundane world, for people who haven't discovered fandom. At least with the internet now, it is so much easier to find like minded people.

Chris McMahon said...

Brian Aldiss's Helliconia series was one that I really loved.
In terms of surving epoch-scale disasters, I also liked the world that Vernor Vinge come up with for Deepness in the Sky. I loved the idea of his spider-like aliens and the resulting play on xenophobia.
Stephen Hunt's Court of Air was interesting too, although I didn't quite like it so much on the character or storyline level.

John Lambshead said...

Dear Chris
I am reading Court of the Air at the moment.
It is very imaginative but I am having trouble getting into it, which may be far more me than the book.


Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Chris and John, I'll have to take a look at Court of the Air. I know I meant to. I just haven't gotten around to it.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

Barry Hughart's trilogy starting with Bridge of Birds; Steve Saylor's Roma Subrosa series; most of Heinlein (but you knew I was going to say that!), Janet Evanovich's New Jersey in the Plum series; Clifford Simak's Wisconsin, Paul Mann's HIGHLY recommended Indian mysteries. Lynda Robinson's Lord Meren's Mysteries which are the only ones, so far, that brought ancient Egypt alive and breathing for me.

Even the real world locations are not necessarily real in books. When they are, that's good world building.