Reading Expanse Book 4: Cibola Burn, and something stood out to me. The basic premise of the book is that humanity is given a quick way to explore new worlds and some enterprising belters exploit a lithium deposit on an alien world so quickly that no charters had yet been written up for the planet’s use. So when the first research and survey ships arrive at the planet they find squatters mining lithium.
Squatters mining lithium on an alien planet surrounded by billion year old ruins of a lost alien culture that was so powerful it constructed a trans dimensional gateway system that propels humanity throughout the galaxy in the blink of an eye. But, no time for that we’ve got lithium to mine and sell because, ‘Belta gotta have full belly, ne?’.
We’re preconditioned in sci fi to be surrounded by experts who can explain mysteries when the reality is that next to our basic material needs universal mysteries tend to pale in comparison. When the protagonist finds a mystery they rarely shrug it off. They simply have to know ‘what happened to these people?’ ‘What was this space station built for?’ and an expert often pops their head around the corner and offers an explanation. Usually after a lot of narrative wrapped around the mystery.
Now, I have to get on the backfoot here, stories following Joe Schmoe mining lithium are not necessarily cooler than Space Indiana Jones extracting space relics and laying millennia of space mystery rest. I will suggest this though: I was more interested when I didn’t know what was going on than when I did. I’m also fairly content speculating forever about a given topic. But then readers of books who start podcasts about worldbuilding is a small demographic to cater to.
I think the best sci fi doesn’t really speculate so much about the origins of the universe or mankind but rather asks what we do when we encounter such knowledge. How our paradigms shift (or don’t) when we encounter them. What I’m really saying is that in reality it’s not that galactic mysteries are not important or interesting, or that worthy novels weren’t built around such mysteries. I guess as a reader I just like them to remain unknowable and as a worldbuilder it might be interesting to lay out some breadcrumbs that may not lead anywhere further than wonder. In short, some mysteries are best left for your reader to speculate on. I like that we encounter incurious characters because most of us are not as inquisitive as our protagonists. These characters are warm and real and earthy. The best stories are about human experience and while we can’t always put ourselves in the shoes of an intrepid space explorer we can definitely identify with being cold, scared, lonely or hungry.
After all, we all need full bellies, ne?
Stay tuned for more writing from the WorldCraft Club as we explore worldbuilding and the crafting of fictional settings to inspire your creativity.
We’re happy to host guest blogs on here whenever we can, it gives James a break and let’s other people contribute their ideas. Let us know if you have a worldbuilding concept or strategy to get off your chest, we’d love to hear it.