Bound

May. 27th, 2007 11:38 am
threemonkeys: (Waxlion)
There is a coherent thought in my head struggling to get out past the clutter. Well I hope it is coherent. Past history would suggest that it is unlikely to be in any way profound but I want to get it out anyway. I going to try the the "start writing and see what happens" tactic, so my apologies if this turns into an incoherent mess.

The trigger was reading the second issue of New Ceres. It has excellent stories by Lucy Sussex, Jay Lake, Stephen Dedman, and Cat Sparks and so is a very enjoyable reading experience. If you need more reasons to read it, [livejournal.com profile] benpayne has lots of them. But what I'm trying to grapple with is how I see shared worlds. It's not that there isn't some good work done in them but it isn't very much either. Or perhaps it is just that I usually find it very hard to engage with such writing. It isn't too hard to find why that may be.

First I'm not a big fan of arbitrary constraints. Everything including writing has fundamental constraints. These are the things which define the art form and genre within that. Beyond that though people try to add extra bounds. I'm thinking here of things like the number of lines in a sonnet or the word count in a drabble. I can see why a writer might enjoy the challenge of some extra rules but I don't see what this adds for the reader (i.e. me) - it just takes attention away from what I consider to be the core of the writing. Sure you can point to great works but I'm not convinced that the rules helped the work or that they were great despite the rules. But then again, perhaps the constraint provides inspiration for the writer. A shared world scenario can be seen as just another set of rules. But do the rules just impose an arbitrary constraint or are they inspiration. I'm pretty sure that most fanfic writers would answer that they are inspired because they want to work in somebody elses universe. That brings me to the second point.

At the core of the SF genre is a fundamental constraint. If you are working in this genre then you are working in a world view that is "other" - not the known world but something that is different. It may be as subtle as allowing a little weird magic to creep into our known world or as fundamental as building a whole new set of planets and species. The important thing is that writing in this genre involves building something extra into the world not just working with what is there (i.e. here). This extra element is why I personally read this genre and not others. I cannot speak for other people but this element of world creation is totally necessary for me in what I read. If a writer is sharecropping or otherwise inhabiting another world then I don't think that they necessarily put that creative component in their work. They may do, but they don't have to and on the evidence of what I have seen they don't do it very often. Again I emphasise that this need for a creative worldbuilding component is a personal need and not one that everybody shares. I'm also aware that I'm touching on the vexed area of the distinction between creative and original and that is a whole other discussion - I'll just say that you don't need to be original to be creative but just copying somebody elses world is neither of these.

I think the summary of all the above is that in order for a shared world series to work for me it has to do the following
a) The shared world should be a platform to inspire not just be a constraint that authors find amusing to work within.
b) The writers cannot simply use the world as provided - they have to expand and create it as they go.
c) It should go without saying that the writers also need to tell a good story with good characters etc.

The writers in the second issue of New Ceres managed to pull this off which is why I enjoyed it. It is hard to think of many other such examples. Wild Cards was cited by somebody and I can agree with that. There may be others but I'm hard pressed to think of what they are right now.

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