The worlds of fantasy writer N. K. Jemisin are as imaginative as they are intimate. In her Heritage trilogy, the gods are real and walk the streets. Her Hugo Award-winning Broken Earth books have a supercontinent called Stillness that is anything but – the country itself is a geological time bomb, ravaged by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The Background for "Sinners, Saints, Dragons and Haints, in a City Beneath Still Waters", part of Jemisins Story Collection 2018 How Long & # 39; To Black Future Month? is a New Orleans obsessed with climate chaos. When Jemisin builds these environments, she not only fills the intricacies of flora and fauna; she thinks about how the citizens of these worlds would live their lives. For Jemisin, world-building is ultimately about power ̵
"Every taste of oppression tends to support others," she said during a two-hour world-building workshop at the WIRED25 festival in San Francisco last weekend, where Jemisin trained the audience to build other world societies. “I am most interested in character. But character is informed by culture, and culture is informed by environment. To understand the character, I often need to understand literally everything about their world. “To do so, she applies two frameworks: one that focuses on macro worldbuilding (the creation of the physical environment where the story will take place – the planet, the continents, the climate, ecology and culture) and one that focuses on microworld building (the communities that result in all their flavors of social stratification).
During the session, Jemisin unpacked the latter, explaining that one of the biggest pitfalls in world building was that writers did not approach it thoughtfully. "The downside is that people just don't do it at all," she said. “People go into creating a world that is not like ours with their embedded assumptions about how our world still works in its place. So they stop creating our world but with tentacle sharks. "She continued," If you are going into this completely alien world that still thinks like a modern American from 2019, you are not doing your job as a creator. " To do it right requires the highest attention to nuances. If you are building a society from the top down – her recommendation – start with species (which she says are dictated by macroworld ecology), then consider their morphology (" consistent physiological variations within a species, such as lactose intolerance "), rage, acculturation, power and role.
It didn't take long for Jemisin to engage the audience. The inhabitants of their world, they dreamed collectively, would be salmon sharks with five tentacles on each fairy living in a stormy channel on an earth-like planet. (Things of nightmares, Jemisin noted.) Jemisin pushed them to consider physiology: "Are there some with different colors? Are there any people who prefer the top of the water compared to the bottom of the water?" one audience member suggested that some would like and others would not, Jemisin worked on the possible ramifications. "In this society [water-based] if the people without screams are considered less important, it is just a repeated genocide. My guess is that the power dynamics of society will not put any gills on top, because you have to have more resources for people with gills. "
That kind of deep-seated is what made Jemisin one of the most acclaimed fantasy and sci-fi writers working today. That's what gets her writing breath, a living rejection for some critics who can dismiss world-building as "a largely counterproductive concept for most types of fiction" that "diminishes the avenues available to writers and readers." Jemisin's realms are epic, lush and special. They feel lived in, carefully thought out. The power relations between her characters are often a direct result of the countries they live in. It is another deep way that Jemisin speaks to time, even as her stories develop on distant planets.