Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Art of Fantasy Worldbuilding In SF

Google Alerts sent me the following alert on "Jacqueline Lichtenberg"


This link is to a blog posted May 9,2008, by Angela Benedetti, which discusses the reasons why a writer should make the effort to construct a fictional world solidly. It's a very well written post (read it, please!) and speaks right to many of the points that I've made recently on this blog. About me, she says:

And if the vampire turns someone, even if it’s only once per book, extrapolate that back for however many centuries or millenia vampires have existed, figure out about how many vampires there probably are in the world, and escalate the problem accordingly. Even the occasional Van Helsing with a satchel full of stakes isn’t going to be able to hold back that particular tide — how long before the human population dwindles to the point where the vampires are all going to starve to death?

This sort of economy of dwindling resources can be done and done well, and turned into an excellent story arc of its own. Jacqueline Lichtenberg wrote a series of SF books where the human race had mutated into two forms, one of which was a vampire-like predator who had to kill one of the other sort each month to survive. The predators started out as a minority population, but about halfway through the series (which covered centuries of future history) she addressed the problem of twelve deaths per year times a lengthening lifespan for the predators multiplied by an expanding predator population, and came up with what she called Zelerod’s Doom, named after the predator mathematician who ran the numbers and gave his people the extremely unwelcome news that Something Had To Be Done by a certain year or they were going to kill all the prey and then starve to death. It was a major plot point of the series and eventually forced a significant shift in the functioning of her society, with all the politics and wars and death and crises this sort of shift usually entails.

This is great worldbuilding, following the implications to their logical conclusion and then using that conclusion to tell an absorbing story. Note also that this sort of conflict would’ve rocked in a romance series — classic Romeo and Juliet stuff.

And of course Angela knows that when the first 8 Sime~Gen novels were published in hardcover and mass market, the SF world would not allow any whiff of Romance in an SF novel, and the Romance world would reject outright any novel that had something vaguely fantasy or Sf about it. Mixing SF and Fantasy was death to sales. I did all of this and more in blatant defiance, but tried not to let them know I was defying them. Really, after all, what they don't know won't hurt them. So here are some clues to what I didn't tell "them."

The Sime~Gen premise is based on the Vampire archetype and welded to an SF framework that has Fantasy "rebar" reinforcing the masonry. It's a complex cross-genre world, so to publish it in the SF genre, most all the fantasy had to be folded inside and underneath so no editor would notice (the fans did, though!)

The following link of my name will take you to the amazon page listing my books where you can find the Sime~Gen titles very easily.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Right after I saw Angela's blog entry, simegen.com acquired a new advertiser who is selling lessons leading to a massage license.

I commented to our sysadmin, Patric Michael, "Well that advertiser certainly belongs on simegen.com because after all it's the root of the Companion's Training." And Patric insisted I write an article about the connection.

In the Sime~Gen premise, the Companion is a kind of voluntary donor to the vampire figure, called a Channel whose major job is Healing and giving Life.

And I started thinking about the Companion's training in terms of this blog.

The Companion and the Channel are the solution to Zelerod's Doom. Working in pairs, they are able to provide all the sustenance the predator Simes require.

Most readers of the Sime~Gen novels assume the Channel has the upper hand, control, power in the ever increasingly intimate relationship between Channel and Companion. They assume it's the Channel's decisions and the Channel's talent that Heals and Sustains, and the Companion just follows along and does as instructed.

NOTHING could be further from the truth.

In any relationship between Sime (predator) and Gen (prey) -- the Gen always has the upper hand, the greatest portion of the "power," and makes the really critical decisions. The Companion uses the Channel to accomplish Healing and other miracles.

It's the Companion's trained and disciplined ability to Heal and use the Channel that allows this whole crazy system of Sime~Gen society to work. A person with Companion's talent who isn't so trained is a monster, a danger, a menace. One fan writer, Andrea Alton, picked up on this and wrote a marvelous story titled ICY NAGER about a Gen turned hunter of the Simes because he had acquired a unique sort of training.


How the Companions learn to use Channels to Heal has been covered in some of the published novels, and explored and elaborated on in many fan written stories (posted online for free reading at http://www.simegen.com/sgfandom/ )

But not a lot has been written about how exactly Companions do all this and where those skills came from in our "real" world.

The Worldbuilding process takes a bit of our "real" world and extrapolates it or alters it to serve the constructed world.

Sime~Gen is an SF Universe and most all the stories are pure SF. But the science behind what Companions do is from the Occult Sciences, or Magick which normally is the science behind Fantasy worldbuilding.

At the time the Sime~Gen world was built, Chakras, acupressure and acupuncture, Auras and assorted models of the human nervous system were considered rubbish by mainstream science.

Today reputable chiropractors use acupressure and other procedures related to the nervous circuitry of the human body that manifests as acupressure points.

So today, this science is "science" and when you use it to build a world, you end up with a "science fiction world." When the science stood in disrepute and you used it to build a world, you ended up with a "fantasy world."

If you look at a map of the human nervous system such as acupuncturists use,

You see one nervous system with nodes strung along the lines.

A similar chart of a Sime's or a Gen's nervous system would look pretty much the same, differing in some details because both Sime and Gen are mutated Ancients (us).

A Channel's nervous system would be very different from ordinary Simes' and Gens'.

A Channel has two separate but conjoined nervous systems with two sets of nodes running all over the body.

Here's an old, traditional poster of Chakras and information about them:

And here's a page of colorful Chakra posters and diagrams

These two sorts of diagrams of connections that hold a spirit into a body, if extrapolated to a science about the Channel's body and its Healing functions become the basis for the Companion's training. The Companion has to learn to sense these nodes and free up the energy flowing among them. That is done by using personal emotions to affect his/her own body, very much as a Yoga Master can control respiration and heartbeat, etc.

For Ancients, physical stimulation of the points on these diagrams affect strength of body, mind, spirit, psychology, mood, emotions, pain, vigor, well-being, and everything we consider important in life.

Today Massage Therapists, soft tissue workers, chiropractors, healers of all sorts use these theories to alleviate all manner of suffering that conventional medicine just doesn't address.

A number of schools have grown up and there are vigorous arguments among them about what's best for whom under which circumstances.

And so it is with Companions and Channels. They have their colorful and informative charts hung on their office walls, and their erudite arguments and a huge variety of ways they are trained, and those trained this way look down on those trained another way while others invent even more new ways to train people.

But it all boils down to massage therapy. The job of the Companion is to know where to touch a Channel, how hard, how often, in what pattern, and most especially how to use concentration and imagination to affect the condition of the channel's nervous system. There's a lot of book learning behind it all, but most of it is talent, skill, practice, and most of all compatibility with the particular Channel.

The Companion must diagnose the Channel's problem and apply the correct remedy - or the Channel won't be able to save the next life put into his/her care.

The Companion's strength, skill and discipline, (and talent) keep the Channel going, and keep the Channel's perceptions honed to a fine edge so the Channel can diagnose and treat the problem presented by ordinary Simes and Gens (or even other Channels and Companions).

Now why isn't all this explained in detail in the novels? Because there's no way to "show" it and it's mostly irrelevant to the plots (so far).

These stories are set so far into the future that the characters don't know anything about the Chakra charts etc. and the actual Ancient science on which their practices are based. They mostly had to reinvent all this for themselves from scratch. Few Ancient texts survived, though some hidden communities preserved a lot of it.

So the writer has a big problem avoiding expository lumps! All that's visible when a Channel and Companion pair work on a patient is a couple of gestures, a careful touch, a precise repositioning holding the distance between them just so.

When writing from the Channel's point of view, all that shows is the Channel's awareness of the Companion's attention focused at a particular point. If that attention wavers or becomes fuzzy, the Channel can't do his/her work.

The best Companions have not only the talent and training of a Companion, but also good, old fashioned Ancient psychic talent.

A good Companion can see auras as psychics can, and can see the hitches and clogs in the flow of energy among the chakras and pressure points.

It takes training to hone those perceptions, and it takes training to know what to do about any given problem -- and even more training to do it reflexively, easily, and in time to help. Elements of the Companion's training resemble training in the martial arts. Do without thinking.

Not everyone can learn it, not everyone can master it.

Personality also figures in. Channels prefer certain Companions over others. A personal, and very intimate, bond is necessary to produce a really great Channel/Companion team. The tensions and conflicts involved in forming such teams make for a good story.

As the centuries pass, Companion training is standardized so that teams can work together without the long years of forming an intimate bond. This, too, is a situation fraught with dramatic possibilities.

When setting out to do some serious worldbuilding, start with something that is well known and accepted -- add something that's just a crazy theory of the day, a fad maybe, shake well and decant into your novel. See what happens. But when marketing your novel, play your cards close to your chest.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. This is timely. I'm in the middle of Weeding & Patching a Science Fantasy/Historical/Romance -type story. I've got everything worked out, except the motivation of the Villains. I've got the *what,* but not a strong enough *why.* A while back I realized during the course of figuring it out, I'd probably inadvertantly write another novel! Staying on schedule, I have another month to figure it out.

  2. > At the time the Sime~Gen world was built, Chakras, acupressure and acupuncture, Auras and assorted models of the human nervous system were considered rubbish by mainstream science.

    And they still are. There's some limited evidence that acupuncture works as a local anaesthetic, but then again, there's some limited evidence that classical music works as an anaesthetic. The ability of the human mind to distract itself is enormous.

    > Today reputable chiropractors use acupressure and other procedures related to the nervous circuitry of the human body that manifests as acupressure points.

    Some people would say that "reputable chiropractor" is a contradiction in terms. I don't go that far: I see a chiropractor on occasion, but I judge him by results, not by the theory he spouts.

    > So today, this science is "science"

    No, it's not.

    [long snip]

    > A number of schools have grown up and there are vigorous arguments among them about what's best for whom under which circumstances.

    You can say that again. When New York State set up a licensing commission for acupuncturists and the like, they called in various Chinese, Japanese, and Korean masters of the art to set out a definite curriculum of what the well-trained acuwhateverist should learn in order to pass the licensing examination. What they found was that the masters couldn't agree on a single thing, particularly not the locations of points. Eventually the commission threw up its hands and now licenses people based on the certificates of their teachers, with no pretense at objectivity at all. (This story was told me by a New York acupuncturist who was there.)

    If there had been at one time some sort of agreement on the locations of points, that agreement had long since been lost by cultural drift; if the points actually worked, on the other hand, we would expect their locations to be strongly conserved between traditions. After all, everyone does agree that puncture/pressure that is slightly off the point is worthless.

    (Similarly, though the names of colors are radically different in different languages, people who speak different languages nevertheless generally do agree on what "the blackest black", "the whitest white", "the reddest red", "the greenest green" and so on are, up to the limit of how many such color names their language has -- an uncomplicated consequence of the fact that we all share a common visual physiology.)

    This utter discrepancy in fundamentals, this adherence to tradition irrespective of, or in defiance of, the facts, has nothing in common with science. Science, by contrast, is public, open, and above all repeatable. It still astonishes me that someone could have scientific training
    and still continue -- comme par exprès -- to miss this basic point.