Writing and World Building: An Annotated Bibliography

World building can be one of the most difficult parts of scifi storytelling. Often, two questions arise in any world building project: 1. How do you start the process? and 2. What are some useful resources that can help the process?

In my case, I found a good starting point when I read an interview with the two authors behind the James S.A. Corey series, The Expanse, where they described using a role playing game as a system for world creation. As a gamer who has built campaigns within the Dungeons and Dragons Dragonlance, the Palladium Games Rifts, FASA BattleTech, and Steve Jackson Games GURPS rules settings, on one hand it made sense that gaming campaigns could serve as a good starting point, on the other hand I’d never considered such work as a baseline for a writing project.

As I put together my library of world building resources, I kept running into the problem of many lists only had one or two resources that would world for my world building project. To aid anyone else who might be looking for a library of world building resources and, in some cases, just general writing references, I offer:

An Annotated Bibliography

Aylott, Chris. GURPS Space: Planetary Record and Worksheet. 4th. Austin: Steve Jackson Games Incorporated, 2006.
— This is the record sheet designed to work with the GURPS Space rule set. It has the benefit of consolidating the world building instructions and requirements into a single workbook to keep up with solar system structures, planetary maps, and cities that might exist on the planet being constructed.

Baker, Richard. Advanced Dungeons and Dragons: World Builder’s Guidebook. Lake Geneva: TSR, Inc., 1996.
— The rule book published by TSR to support dungeon master world building under the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd edition rule sets.

Clegg, Brian. Ten Billion Tomorrows: How Science Fiction Technology Became Reality and Shapes the Future. New York: St Martin’s Press, 2015.
— I recently encountered this book resulting from a library search for the science behind science fiction. I was only a few pages into the book when I realized that this book is a must own for anyone interested in scifi storytelling. Not only does Clegg present what might work and what cannot work, he digs into the science as it stands today, how science has changed some possibilities, and ultimately offers that sometimes a storyteller does have to cheat to tell the story.

D’Amato, James. The Ultimate RPG Character Backstory Guide: Prompts and Activities to Create the Most Interesting Story for Your Character. New York: Adams Media, 2018.
— Everyone has a story. This little book helps with questions and examples of things that would be important to understanding who the character is at the beginning of your story. It’s easier to get your character to the end of your story and understand the impacts of the adventure, if you know where the character started.

Fugate, Sr, Joe D, J Andrew Keith and Gary L Thomas. MegaTraveller World Builder’s Handbook. Boise: Digest Group Publications, 1989.
— This work was created to offer a supplementary set of rules for building worlds and equipment for exploring those worlds with the Traveller game setting. This book works around instructions for a variety of world and environmental structures.

Gygax, Gary and Dan Cross. Gary Gygax’s World Builder. Little Rock: Troll Lord Games, L.L.C., 2004.
— One of the co-creators of Dungeons and Dragons, Gygax, offered this set of world building instructions to demonstrate what types of things should be considered for a setting.

Jackson, Steve and William A Barton. GURPS Space. 2nd. Austin: Steve Jackson Games Incorporated, 1993.
— While the 4th edition of GURPS Space has improved rules for planetary and solar system construction, the 2nd edition includes spaceship building resources from the largest interstellar travellers down to planetary shuttle craft.

Jackson, Steve, Sean Punch and David Pulver. GURPS Basic Set: Campaigns. 4th. Austin: Steve Jackson Games Incorporated, 2008.
Jackson, Steve, Sean Punch and David Pulver. GURPS Basic Set: Characters. 4th. Austin: Steve Jackson Games Incorporated, 2008.
— These two books make up the GURPS Basic Set. The character volume provides a broad offering of character personality traits that might be considered in the construction of story characters. The campaign volume provides suggestions for building the world and setting in which those characters to live and explore within.

King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York: Scribner, 2010.
— King begins his book on writing advice with “most books about writing are filled with bullshit”. From there, he goes on to explain that reading and writing are the two most important things a writer can do. Along the way, he offers suggestions of tools and advice on how to approach the writing process.

Lamson, Laurie. Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror: Speculative Genre Exercises from Today’s Best Writers and Teachers. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2014.
— This volume of the Now Write! series offers a set of writing exercises created by many big name authors in scifi, fantasy, and horror writing. Everyone experiences writer’s block at some point and these exercises offer an excellent guided way to keep writing while working through a block.

Peoples, Mark. Cosmos-2: Alternity Universe Building Guidebook, Version 2. 2006.
— This is a supplementary rule set that the author created to support solar system and world construction for another one of TSR’s scifi gaming attempts.

Schmidt, Victoria Lyn. 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters. Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 2001.
— This book works from the Joseph Campbell monomyth and Carl Jung archetype theories to create a set of character types that exist in stories, gives examples of characters from existing stories, and explains how such a character might be placed into a writer’s story.

Silverstein, Janna. The Kobold Guide to Worldbuilding. Kirkland: Open Design, LLC, 2012.
— This is a collection of articles that Kobold magazine ran covering different aspects of world building. Some of the biggest names in game design and fantasy writing are represented here.

Thorne, Kip. The Science of Interstellar. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2014.
— This book is another example of the science behind science fiction. In this case, the scientist who served as the science advisor to the movie Interstellar, Thorne gets to explain the actual science behind wormholes and black holes. For anyone toying with wormholes and other forms of faster than light travel for a story, this book is a must own.

Vandermeer, Jeff. Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction. Revised and Expanded. New York: Abrams Image, 2018.
— Vandermeer is an author and editor well-known within scifi, fantasy, and horror circles. In this book, a guy who knows the genres offers suggestions and exercises to aid in the creation of worlds and setting for the stories of other writers.

Vogler, Christopher. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. 3rd. Studio City: Michael Wiese Productions, 2007.
— If you’re familiar with Joseph Campbell’s classic work The Hero with a Thousand Faces, this book presents Campbell’s heroic journey monomyth concept as a structure for writing and telling stories.

Ward, James M and Gary Jaquet. Gamma World 1st. Lake Geneva: TSR Hobbies, Inc, 1978.
Gamma World was one of TSR’s earlier explorations into scifi gaming. While the rulebook was written to support a post-nuclear war post-apocalyptic setting, two sets of subrules really standout for world creation. First, the rules for mutations offers interesting prospects for what types of mutations might result from radiation exposure. The second set of useful rules take the form of a series of flowcharts that walk through the process of trying to figure out any unknown, lost, or alien “artifact” item that might be found over the course of a story. The flowchart process results include such possibilities as damage to the artifact, death or injury to the charactrers trying to figure out what the aftifact does, or even the characters actually successfully figuring out for themselves what this “new” toy does.

Zeigler, Jon F and James L Cambias. GURPS Space. 4th. Austin: Steve Jackson Games Incorporated, 2006.
— The 4th edition of GURPS Space offers an excellent and much improved system for creating planetary worlds and the science-influenced rules behind solar system placement of habitable planets.

Clipart stolen from Clipartmax.

The Passage vs The Passage

A few weeks ago the tv show The Passage wrapped up its first season finale.  As someone who read the book series, which begins with the book The Passage, I was interested in seeing how the tv show and the book measure up.

For starters, bear in mind, the first season of the tv series only covers the first half of the first book.  The writers do an excellent job of incorporating information from sequel books into the tv series. much like the the writers of The Expanse tv show have incorporated information from the latest The Expanse novels into earlier tv
seasons.

I think the writers of the tv show did an excellent job of capturing the spirit of the book.  However, as is always the case of books adapted into tv shows and movies, there were changes made to the story from the book.  While most of the changes made were minor, there were definitely some changes that will create some interesting problems for the writers as the series continues in following seasons.

It is for this reason that I added a writing tag to this post.  I think an interesting opportunity to see how writers write themselves out of corners and problems will be coming in subsequent seasons.  The first season changes some characters in ways that will potentially impact how they can be used or will need to be changed in the future seasons.

Even if you’re not a fan of scifi or horror tv, there will be a chance for anyone interested in writing or the storytelling process to see how writers and storytellers can fix problems created in their own storytelling.  Season two should be interesting.

Clipart stolen from Clipartmax.

Spravato (Esketamine) Nasal Spray for Treatment of Depression

Two announcements have shown up this month.

The first announcement is the FDA approval for the use of Spravato (esketamine), a nasal spray for treatment of depression.

The second announcement came this week.  This one is the VA approval of Spravato (esketamine) to be used by VA providers for treating veterans with depression.

For people with depression that are not experiencing improvements with traditional antidepressant medications, this provides an opportunity to try a new medication that can be added to the usual depression treatment through anti-depressants.

Because of the newness of the medication, there are still some restrictions to how the medication is given and a required period of observation after the medication is administered.

For those of us with depression, we have one more tool in our toolbox.

Clipart stolen from Clipartmax.

Science of SciFi

Currently reading a book about the science behind scifi.  It’s a great book and I’ll give it a good write up once I finish it.

Anyway, while reading a chapter on search for extraterrestrials, I got curious about the history of radio and tv signals and how far they’ve made it so far.  A Google search led me to two websites with really amazing information.

The first was a link on the Planetary Society’s webpage, which demonstrated with a map of the Milky Way how far Earth signals have made it into space.  Emphasis on the Milky Way there because even within our own galaxy, signals haven’t gone very far.

The second was a website called ETTV.  ETTV is Extraterrestrial Television.  Using today’s date as a starting point, it maps out radio signals from Earth and demonstrates with examples what tv programs would reach some of the planets in our galaxy that are  projected to support life.

The book is fantastic and started out as a library book that I felt was a must own for anyone interested in scifi writing.  I rushed out to buy my own and am working my way through it.

Clipart stolen from Clipartmax.

Them by Ben Sasse

I finished reading Ben Sasse‘s book Them: Why We Hate Each Other – And How to Heal this past Thursday.  I picked up this book because one of my research interests is the process of othering or creating The Other.

The author, Ben Sasse, is  the newwest Senator from NEbraska, having just been elected in 2014.  Sasse frames his argument for how we’ve gotten to the current state of othering within an s discussion of loneliness as a central condition and a need for tribes to surround ourselves.  He points out one of the biggest problems resulting in othering is a result is the current state of politics.

The book discusses this concept of politics with the introduction one of my favorite new words:  polititainment. Sasse uses this term to describe how the talking heads on tv, particularly on Fox News and MSNBC, create a false political dichotomy of extreme rights and extreme lefts that cannot work together and/or meet in the middle, which exists solely for personal profit and fame of the talking heads.

Part of his solution offering is to look at things in a new way.  On the surface, this is a good offering.  However, as his initial discussion involves the issue of loneliness, the discussion deviation into the area of discussing how people need to adapt to a new and changing sharing economy and the reduction of personal ownership appears to create more potential for othering and separating people rather than bringing them together.

Sasse ends his discussion of his particular concept of othering by offering up a pair of definitions to differentiate between politics and civics.  He defines politics as being “about the use of power” and civics as being “about who we are as a people” (245).

Dream Theater (Mike Portnoy) – Shattered Fortress (Twelve Step Suite)

Mike Portnoy wrote this as a series of pieces over five albums.  This was his way of honoring the 12 Steps.

1. “The Glass Prison”
(0:08 – 13:56)
2. “This Dying Soul”
(13:57 – 25:19)
3. “The Root Of All Evil”
(25:20 – 32:26)
4. “Repentance”
(32:27 – 43:09)
5. “The Shattered Fortress”
(43:10 – 55:59)

Out There by Michael Wall

Another book I finished last week was Michael Wall‘s Out There: A Scientific Guide to Alien Life, Antimatter, and Human Space Travel (For the Cosmically Curious).

Dr Wall’s book gives a glimpse of the search for extraterrestrial life.  Beginning with the Drake Equation and possible chemical compositions of extraterrestrial life, Wall explores what life might look like in the universe.

The book explores what alien life might be like, how it might communicate with us, world reactions and responses, and current and possible future techniques to search for life.

Dr Wall also explores the possibility of our colonization of other planets, our exploration of interstellar space, time travel, and evolutionary implications of our leaving our home planet.

Whether you’re just curious about alien life and existing theories of life, or if you’re looking to create an alien life form in a story you’re working on, this book is a must read.