Hello Readers! Today I’m pleased to welcome Jonathan Sourbeer on Books Teacup and Reviews to talk about Crafting Believable Sci-Fi (and Fantasy) Worlds for his new release Mercenary’s Child, first in The Phoenix Fallacy series. Check out the book details and interesting guest post below.
Mercenary’s Child (The Phoenix Fallacy Book 1) by Jonathan Sourbeer
Publication Date: August 30th 2019
Publisher: Vulpine Press
Genre: YA / Dystopia
A GROUP OF MERCENARIES FIGHT FOR THE TRUTH IN A DYSTOPIAN WORLD.
The slums of Cerberus Corporation are the dumping grounds for trash, secrets, and the dregs of society. And they’re the only home Janus has ever known. But when an Overlord of Cerberus comes knocking, searching for new recruits for her swelling armies in the battle for supremacy, he is swept up in a conflict that has been brewing for years.
Janus is not destined for the front lines, however. When he is unexpectedly sold to the ODIN Legion, an elite mercenary unit living on the fringes of Corporate control, he finds that his years of survival in the fetid slums will be put to the test. But survival will soon be the least of his concerns.
The ODIN Legion is about to be thrust into the middle of a conspiracy that will roil the very foundations of Corporate dominance. Can Janus, and ODIN, make it out alive?
Crafting Believable Sci-Fi (and Fantasy) Worlds
I’ve been asked several times now about how I created the world of Mercenary’s Child, and the richly imagined places within it. Some people are flabbergasted how someone can think up so many unique and disparate pieces of a world, yet keep them consistent and grounded. The truth is that crafting believable science fiction and fantasy worlds is simply a process borne out of building on initial ideas, and asking questions about those ideas until they are consistent. Most importantly, it’s about continuing to ask questions about those ideas even after you come up with an answer. Sometimes you will discover new and fascinating concepts. Sometimes you will realize that a plot point doesn’t work. But no matter whether you are a detailed planner, or a ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ type writer, this approach can work.
Generally, the questions most writers are taught to ask follow the standard ‘who, what, where, why, and how’ format, and there is nothing wrong with that. Those are the right questions to ask, but the key is to avoid pigeonholing yourself into a single answer per question, or to stop at one layer deep. Don’t let the answer to one question influence your answer to another, as freely answering can often reveal problems in your plot, characters, or world, or even inspire you in new ways. Sometimes the perfect setup in your mind doesn’t hold together when you shine a light on the dark spots!
Let’s say I’m writing a modern cyberpunk detective noir thriller, and perhaps my hero is chasing after the villain, who hasn’t been revealed yet, and on a whim I put them in a mall in a crazy footrace. Imagine such a situation, if you will. Right now, this might not seem too interesting or unique in your mind. It certainly seems kind of plain in mine. So how do we build this out? How to we make it feel more cyberpunk/noir? What questions do we need to ask to get insight into our world? Unfortunately, we all know that the ‘right’ questions usually won’t surface right away. So let’s ask just one quick question:
Why did the villain choose to go to a mall?
A1) The mall is the decaying heart of this capitalist city, the glowing holopanels of its walls light up the night and attract massive crowds, making it easy to get lost in.
A2) Our villain hates the bourgeoisie. Once a member of this class, he was here to hurt as many people as he could, in every way he could.
You might have come up with different answers, but already, we’ve started to put something together that feels a little better. And maybe these two answers work together, maybe not. Let’s build on the first, before asking anything else:
What are the mall crowds like?
B1) The crowds are teeming masses of every kind of person. Poor wretched souls pander for money along the boardwalks, daring not move any closer for fear of the local security. The local 5:00 train pulls directly into the mall station, letting off a combination of workmen meeting their families and fixers hoping that the newest dream-stims might be available for purchase.
OK, that sounds kind of cool, but hold on – we’ve got a problem. Our imagined answers don’t work anymore. Our villain hates the upper class, but the crowds most definitely aren’t. It doesn’t make sense for him to be here to hurt people. We’re starting to get some cool ideas flowing, but we need consistency, too. He has to be here for something else, or we have to change our mall a bit. Let’s try changing up the mall crowds. We think we know our villain pretty well at this point – smart and only on the run because our hero got a lucky break. They were definitely planning to hurt people.
B2) The Watchtower mall is the gathering place of the elite, who come to flaunt their wealth. There are more convenient ways to shop, but no better place to show status. For beyond the massive jewels and the perfumed smoke of Jane, the ability to spend and the size of one’s collection of ‘indents’ are the true status symbols of this city.
Wait, what are indents?
C3) Indents. Poor souls who’ve gone into debt and now service the elite bondholders of the city. And all types are here in the mall, from your standards, who scurry behind their masters, or dash forth to bring only the best food, tech, and finery, to the far sadder sights, who may be dressed for their masters’ pleasure, or augmented at their whim. And all of them wear the standard AugCollar, placed around their necks to keep them in line.
Now we’re getting somewhere. Not only is the world more richly imagined than before, but we now have a new idea for the villain – and maybe some story changes in our future.
A3) The rash of escaped indents in the news was starting to make sense. Our villain had been testing a hack on the AugCollars, and what better place to cause chaos than to spontaneously free thousands of them at once.
There, we have it. Suddenly, our villain is clearer than before, and so is our plot. If you’re the planning type, this might be where you suddenly realize you have a better hook. If you’re not, you might suddenly realize that the escaped servants that you wrote about in chapters 1, 3, and 7 are not just being freed and the differences in the murders our hero is investigating might be because our villain isn’t doing the dirty work himself.
Obviously, this is a quick and dirty example, with plenty more to explore, but I’ve stumbled into more than one writing discovery in similar fashion! And even when all the discovered details don’t get included in my books, they help create consistency, which is perhaps most important of all. Because consistency is one thing in writing that is most noticeable when it is missing. By asking these detailed questions often, and more than once, I recognize problems in all aspects of my world-building, and fix problems sooner rather than trying to patch them up later. This process made a huge difference in Mercenary’s Child, and made me a better writer overall. And whether you are reading a book, or writing one, I hope it helps you flesh out the world or notice new details in the writing that you never considered before.
All the best, and happy reading!
A computer programmer by day, and a writer by night, Jonathan Sourbeer has long been a fan of technology and science fiction, drawing from a wide variety of experiences for his work. This includes (among others) a stint in corporate finance, a degree in physics, providing op-eds for the Wall Street Journal, running a half-Ironman with Navy Seals, and diving the Great Barrier Reef.
When he’s not writing or working in tech, you can often find him rock climbing, building electronics with his father, or trying to be a better cook. He currently resides in Seattle, Washington.
Jonathan’s book Mercenary’s Child is available here.
What do you think about the book and post? Have you read this book already? Are you going to add it to TBR?
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