- Oct 1, 2009
You get so close to getting Evilthecat's point (and the one I tried to make earlier in this thread), yet whiff at the very last instant.Hawki said:Technically true, but in the context of worldbuilding itself, there's distinction between works that put in the legwork, and those that don't.
This is speaking broadly, but there's about three levels as to how you can handle FTL travel in a setting. First is to not even acknowledge the light barrier exists - ships can get from point a to point b in a reasonable timeframe, and no-one explains anything. Second is to acknowledge it and give an offhand explanation - off the top of my head, Star Trek. In TOS, the explanation was "warp drive," and while not an in-depth explanation, it was praised at the time for even acknowledging the light barrier existed. Third is when it actually goes into detail, which brings me back to 40K. We know how FTL travel is possible (the Warp), and how that FTL travel is actually conducted.
FTL travel may be a genre convention, but how one deals with the convention is going to vary from setting to setting, and some settings put more thought into it than others. The worldbuilding is independent from the convention, even if it's serving the need of that convention.
Yes, there is broadly three ways to adress how FTL works in Sci-Fi (and in extension all kinds of world building): The ignore way, the hand wave way and the in-depth way. Which one you pick isn't just about how much thought you put into your setting, it is also contingent on what the focus of the story is and what genre you are writing in. To believe that tons of explanations is equal to good world building or equals the amount of thought that has gone into the world building is to miss the essentials of telling a story.
If the goal of your story is to tell a grand political tale with allegories to the fall of the Roman Empire and most of your action is political intrigue in lush gardens, senate back rooms and on official Senate space ships then you don't need to put too much effort into explaining your FTL. In fact, trying too hard to explain it will probably be detrimental to your story, because you'll stop your political intrigue to explain a pointless detail that your reader won't care about. In the opposite direction, if you are writing a story about a race to colonize a distant star system or an important plot point is that there's time pressure to reach a world attacked by aliens, then you absolutely need to explain your FTL and its limitations in some way because your story hinges on it.
Narnia never bothers to "justify" anything because it is a Creationist tale from start to finish and Narnia is explicitly a fairy tale world, wondrous stuff happens there because it is a magical world where the rules of the real world don't apply. That works because it tells you all you need to know about Narnia and Lewis never tries, nor wants, to explain how Aslan got his powers or how the White Witch's presence changed the climate. It's magic, roll with it.
Tolkien was very meticulous with the lore of Middle Earth, to the point that he often stops his narratives dead in their tracks so he can explain Elvish lyricism and present a few Elven songs as example to the reader, or explain Hobbit tobacco growing or the laws of succession in Gondor. That means that for those that really want to immerse themselves in the mythology of Middle Earth there's a ton of stuff to learn, but also that you need to approach the Lord of the Rings as equal parts narrative and sheer world building. It also works.
Howard wrote Conan the Barbarian as a critique of what he considered the effeminate masculinity ideals of the inter-war period and wanted to make stories about a strong, free man fighting monsters and effeminate, sly wizards. The Hyborian age is very vaguely explained: Atlantis has fallen, the historical ancient civilizations are yet to rise. Magic exists but its rules are vague. Lovecraft's Elder Gods and Ancients exist (Nyarlahotep and Azatoth both get explicit mentions) as does a ton of other Gods either made up or cribbed from ancient mythologies. This hand waving was done so that Howard could focus on the themes of his stories, while also providing a consistent world that other writers could easily set stories in.
The Hyborian Age, Narnia and Middle Earth are all fantasy, but they are very different in how their world building is done. That Tolkien was the most meticulous of the three should not be confused with Tolkien being the "best" world builder or the one who put the most time and energy into it. Simply because world building in literature is a means to an end, it is the backdrop upon which the actual story happens and how detailed the backdrop has to be is very much determined by the needs of the story.
You've consistently made the error of thinking that lots of lore is the same as good world building, when me and the Evilthecat are trying to tell you that the amount and specificity of world building is dependent on contextual things like genre, plot and narrative pacing.