Our inspiration this week is the “Solar System Necklace,” a real piece of jewelry from ThinkGeek that can bought for around 40 bucks. The Sun is on the left, followed by all of the planets. Even the Asteroid Belt is represented. I understand, although it’s not pictured, that there’s also an optional dangling comet that can be added to the necklace.
Now THIS is what I call fashion.
(Yes, yes, I know, Pluto isn’t officially a planet anymore…but the jewelry folks haven’t caught on yet, so let’s not burst their bubble).
OK, this short film from Erik Wernquist, which leverages the voice of the late Carl Sagan, is just plain cool. You need to watch it, you really do.
Here’s how Erik describes his project:
Wanderers is a vision of humanity’s expansion into the Solar System, based on scientific ideas and concepts of what our future in space might look like, if it ever happens. The locations depicted in the film are digital recreations of actual places in the Solar System, built from real photos and map data where available.
Without any apparent story, other than what you may fill in by yourself, the idea of the film is primarily to show a glimpse of the fantastic and beautiful nature that surrounds us on our neighboring worlds – and above all, how it might appear to us if we were there.
Mesmerizing stuff. For more information (and links to still pictures), see Erik’s article.
How do you design realistic worlds?
This is a problem unique to science fiction and fantasy writers (and sometimes even game designers). The challenge is to create a world that seems realistic, without rousing the ire of fans who rightly point out things like unrealistic locations for mountain ranges, implausible deserts, unlikely climates, overly regular coastlines, etc. Additionally, the world shouldn’t seem so artificial that it was clearly designed solely to support the needs of a story.
Designing a realistic world can be a daunting task, so the first principle we need to apply is “divide and conquer.” Let’s separate the design process into components, and deal with each section of the problem separately. Here are the major components that I’ve identified:
Mapping Strategy: There are lots of ways to produce a map of a world. Since worlds are typically spherical (yes, yes, I know about Terry Pratchett’s Discworld and a few other counter-examples, but I did say realistic worlds), all two-dimensional maps involve some degree of distortion. Our goal is to choose a mapping strategy that will support our efforts to design a realistic world.
Geographical Features: Our world needs features like continents, oceans, mountains, volcanoes, etc. Our goal is to develop a step-by-step process for generating these features on our world map in a natural and realistic fashion.
Climate: We want to develop a realistic world so we can avoid the dreaded “It was a rainy day on planet Mongo” syndrome. If our world has realistic geography, then we should be able to specify climate features like ocean currents, deserts, jungles, and rivers with some degree of plausibility.
Flora and Fauna: Given the opportunity, life will develop. How do we create plausible lifeforms in realistic ecologies?
Solar System: Planets don’t exist by themselves (unless they’ve been ejected from a stellar system, in which case they’re really cold and boring). What does the rest of your world’s solar system look like?
I’ve always enjoyed the technical aspects of world building, and I’ve engaged in world building for years — most often for elaborate worlds for roleplaying games. I’m also just a little tired of all the stereotypical “Class M” worlds, all narrowly constrained copies of some particular Earth climate, that I see in a lot of science fiction. Accordingly, I decided to produce a series of “World Building” installments covering the diverse areas that must be addressed to design realistic worlds.
I’m a “kill many birds with one stone” kind of a guy, so I’ve got some wide-ranging goals that I hope to accomplish with this series. First and foremost, I hope to inspire other writers to develop more fully realized worlds, with obvious benefits to their writing and to the experiences of their readers. Second, I’ll be using these techniques and strategies myself to design some of the worlds that I need for my upcoming projects. Third, I hope to gather this content eventually into an ebook and sell it online (although I plan to keep all of the installments online for free as well).
I hope you enjoy these “World Building” articles. More importantly, I hope you find them useful and relevant to your writing process. Let me know what you think of them. Your feedback is welcomed.